By Karen Gorby
Chief Executive Officer/Chief Nursing Officer, Angel Medical Center
Spring’s longer days and milder weather are finally on the horizon, and many happily anticipate plentiful opportunities to spend time outdoors and lead more active social lives. I learned something surprising and sobering about spring at a recent education session I attended, however. It’s the season in which both depression and suicide rates spike. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and 2017 statistics are significant – there were 47,173 suicides and 1,400,000 attempts. Despite the fact that the problem is widespread, it’s important to know that there is not one single cause of suicide. It can happen when stressors overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope with them. It’s also closely linked to depression.
Dr. Micah Krempasky, Psychiatrist and Senior Patient Officer for Mission Health, offers insight into why this is the case. She shares that sunlight and other sensory experiences associated with spring, as well as the increased energy of family and friends, can make those who struggle with depression or mania disorders feel worse, and disappointed when spring doesn’t have the same beneficial effects on them as others. “There’s a surge of activity, referred to as “spring mania” we see that we know is actually triggered by spring’s longer days. Patients with mania mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, can either have their lows (depressive feelings) or highs (mania) activated by the increased light of spring, and the fact that their circadian rhythms – mental and physical adjustments we make seasonally – aren’t matched to spring’s sudden changes is a factor as well,” she adds. “This reaction can also motivate those who have considered suicide in the winter but have been without the energy to act on those thoughts, to do so.” In addition, feelings of social isolation can intensify when patients with depression or mood disorders see friends and family energized and getting together.
Several things that we know are suicide risk factors include feeling hopeless, losing interest in hobbies and commonly enjoyed activities, appetite and sleep changes, drastic mood swings, and increased use of alcohol and drugs. A critical fact that Dr. Krempasky reveals is that connecting to mental health services and other forms of support have been proven to prevent suicide. “When people ask what they can do to help a loved one they’re worried about,” Dr. Krempasky relates, “I explain that it’s really as simple as reaching out and connecting. If you can approach them nonjudgmentally, with genuine concern, and listen well, it’s a meaningful opportunity to encourage them to seek treatment, and help them find resources if necessary.”
Even though we’re well into the 21st century, many still see mental health as completely separate from physical health; in fact, they are closely connected. Our mental health greatly affects our physical health – just think about how your stomach or shoulders feel when you experience stress. When we talk about whole person care, we mean that Angel Medical Center’s clinicians provide care for every aspect of a patient’s wellbeing: physical, emotional, and spiritual.
Karen S. Gorby, RN, MSN, MBA, CENP, FACHE, is the Chief Executive Officer/Chief Nursing Officer of Angel Medical Center. Gorby is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). For nearly three decades, she has served hospitals and health systems in Ohio before assuming her role at Angel Medical Center. Gorby received her MSN from Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine, and her MBA from Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio.