Nicole Edens holds a photograph of her sister, Brittany Bell, who committed suicide 12 years ago, Wednesday in Shoreline. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Nicole Edens holds a photograph of her sister, Brittany Bell, who committed suicide 12 years ago, Wednesday in Shoreline. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Suicide Prevention Month a reminder that help is available

Online or by phone, resources are widely accessible as millions struggle with mental health.

EVERETT — Like many siblings close in age, Nicole Edens and Brittany Bell loved each other but fought often.

Edens said when her younger sister would laugh she couldn’t help but do the same, and that Bell would take selfies before selfies were a thing. Bell was a great friend, a good listener and someone Edens said she could rely on.

Growing up, Edens, 37, said the word suicide wasn’t even in her vocabulary. Then Bell began experiencing depression and anxiety in high school. It was a difficult time, but Bell persevered and attained her diploma.

When Bell’s symptoms became worse, Edens said her funny, caring, creative sister retreated from life, becoming less social and forgoing her prescribed medication to self-medicate. In 2008, at the age of 21, Bell took her own life.

Edens now uses her voice and her blog, The I in BrIttany, to raise awareness for a subject she said was taboo during her upbringing.

“When my sister was going through all this, I think there was a lot of stigma, unknown and misunderstanding based around mental health disorders,” she said. “I think it’s important that we talk more about mental health disorders and suicide and most importantly we need to listen.”

September is Suicide Prevention Month and officials and advocates are spreading the word that help is never far away.

“We know Washingtonians have been going through some rough times that put stress on us all,” Gov. Jay Inslee said at a press conference Thursday focused on mental health advocacy. “We’ve just got to realize, seeking help is not only okay, it’s great for us and our loved ones. … This is normal. It is not a result of weakness or doing anything wrong in any away. Any of us can be affected.”

Inslee said upwards of 3 million people in Washington are likely to experience significant mental health symptoms during this unprecedented pandemic period.

Disruptions to our normal behavior have resulted in Volunteers of America’s crisis lines receiving an increase in calls and a higher severity of symptoms from callers this year, according to Levi Van Dyke, assistant director of VOA Western Washington’s Behavioral Health Department.

With the pandemic halting Volunteers of America’s typical community outreach of suicide prevention trainings and delivering resources to schools, much of the work is being done over the phone. This year, the local North Sound Crisis Line has seen a 6.6% uptick in calls and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has shouldered a 45% jump.

“With the increase in isolation, we see and hear from individuals a lot of discussion around increases in loneliness and depressive symptoms,” Van Dyke said.

Self portraits taken by Brittany Bell. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Self portraits taken by Brittany Bell. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

At the VOA, a staff of full-time trained professionals are a phone call away around the clock to listen, talk and provide resources to anyone in search of support. The lines aren’t solely for those experiencing extreme distress. Van Dyke said anyone with questions, uncertainties or in need of assistance supporting someone else is encouraged to call.

“You don’t have to be at the point of being suicidal to call us. We are here for emotional support as well,” he said. “If somebody is having a hard day or they just feel like things are starting to stack up on them … then we are a resource for them. They can call and talk to our clinicians on the phone.”

With this year’s suicide prevention month falling in the middle of a pandemic, ongoing social unrest, historic wildfires and more, experts are emphasizing the necessity of remaining hopeful and reaching out for help if needed.

“Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed and uncertain about the future is completely normal right now,” said Rena Fitzgerald, a crisis services program manager with VOA, during a Snohomish County Health District briefing Friday. “It’s really important that we all take care of ourselves so that we can take care of one another.”

Snohomish County residents in need of assistance can call the North Sound Crisis Line at 1-800-584-3578 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Washington Listens at 833-681-0211. Online resources are also available at imhurting.org, suicidepreventionlifeline.org and afsp.org. The National Alliance of Mental Illness Snohomish County is also available with guidance and support for mental health needs.

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; idavisleonard@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.

Ian Davis-Leonard reports on working class issues through Report for America, a national service program that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. To support Ian’s work at The Daily Herald with a tax-deductible donation, go to www.heraldnet.com/support.

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