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Tempe counselor: Don’t avoid topic of suicide if something is amiss

Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade (AP Photos)

PHOENIX — If you see signs that a loved one is thinking about suicide, the most important thing you can do is ask about it, according to a Phoenix-area counselor.

“When you are close to somebody and they are not acting like their selves, I think my number one goal would be to get people to talk about it,” Jill McMahon, licensed counselor at Empact Suicide Prevention Center in Tempe, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona Morning News on Friday. “Do not be afraid to ask the question.”

This week’s high-profile deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and TV host Anthony Bourdain, as well as April’s death of Swedish musician/DJ Avicii, have people talking about the issue of suicide, and McMahon said it’s a conversation that shouldn’t be avoided.

“I would much rather talk about it, and get the rest of the culture to talk about it, than to be afraid that we’re going to cause another suicide if we say something,” she said.

According to a new report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate in Arizona increased somewhere between 6 and 18 percent in Arizona from 1999 to 2016, which was lower than the national average of nearly 30 percent.

McMahon said that while it’s not always easy to see when somebody is thinking about doing self-harm, usually there are signs.

“A lot of people in our culture have become very good at putting on a mask, putting on a show, trying to hide where they really are,” she said. “But there definitely are signs and symptoms: Personality will change, sleeplessness, change in appetite, irregular behavior.”

It can be uncomfortable to talk about, but it shouldn’t be, McMahon said.

“If you’re scared to say, ‘Are you suicidal?’ then I need you to say, ‘Hey, do I need to worry about you? I’m worried about you, are you OK?'” she said.

Most of the time, McMahon said, the person isn’t in a state of mind that allows him or her to reach out for help.

“So we need to do it for them. … Nine times out of 10, 10 times out of 10, they can’t seek assistance for themselves,” she said.

Help is available by calling Empact at 480-784-1500 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.