Here for You: Suicide Prevention Awareness in Tough Times

Mental health is a topic worthy of attention year-round, but September brings a special focus as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. According to Arianne Zimmerman, Penn Highlands Healthcare Behavioral Health Director of Clinical Operations, this is especially true during a global event such as a pandemic. Zimmerman says the Behavioral Health unit at Penn Highlands has seen its own increase reflecting the national upward trends in anxiety and depression this year. “Absolutely,” Zimmerman says, “ has definitely had an impact on these.” In response, she says, “We have someone available to assess patients at all Penn Highlands hospitals all the time. We are here for them and their emotional needs, and we’re also here for the families who are trying to get their loved ones help.”

While suicide has been on the rise, this year’s increase in mental health disorders is due at least in part to what Zimmerman refers to as “social isolation and just an extreme change in routine,” which may more acutely impact those who have historically struggled with anxiety and depression—but which have affected all of us. When it comes to wearing a mask, undergoing screenings, and being forced to stay socially distanced, Zimmerman notes the emotional effects are universal. “I think we have all struggled with it,” she says. “It’s everything you hear all the time.”

If COVID-19 has done us any favors, perhaps it’s made our society more comfortable discussing our mental health. That makes this is an important time to highlight some facts about suicide that many mental health professionals want more of us to know.

  • Suicide “can happen to anyone,” Zimmerman says. “It’s really important for people to understand suicide can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or background.”
  • Suicide is on the rise. According to (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), in the U.S., 123 people die of suicide each day for a total of approximately 45,000 per year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (via the National Institute of Mental Health), in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 years (the first was unintentional injury). For those between 35 and 54, last year suicide was the fourth leading cause of death.
  • There can be warning signs. While it’s best to seek help from a professional and while no list is totally comprehensive, Zimmerman says an early indication that an individual is thinking about suicide is when they show evidence of “being hopeless and really not having any reason to live, or feeling like a burden to people.” Zimmerman says beyond that, loved ones might also watch for “any kind of indication of wanting to kill themselves or just not wanting to live anymore,” which may include increased substance use or web searches for successful suicide methods. She also mentions any acts of furtherance, such as leaving a note, sending a text message, buying a gun, giving away their possessions—especially their most prized possessions—as well as sleeping, social isolation, missing work, or an overall change in behavior can be indicators.
  • Seeking help can save a life. “For someone who is feeling suicidal or having thoughts, we encourage them to call 911 or get to the closest emergency department immediately,” Zimmerman says. From that point, the patient may receive an assessment over the phone or in person from a mental health care worker. The Behavioral Health unit at the PH DuBois East campus provides telehealth services over the phone for the health system’s other four hospitals (PH Brookville, PH Clearfield, PH Elk, and PH Huntingdon). Also, the Emergency Department at Penn Highlands DuBois has a mental health worker in the emergency department 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

To learn more about how Penn Highlands Behavioral Health can help you or someone you love, visit For contact information for all five Penn Highlands emergency departments, visit To contact the Clearfield-Jefferson county suicide intervention hotline, call 1-800-341-5040.