As the pandemic continues, maintaining social connections is crucial to suicide prevention

As “social distancing” has been prescribed to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to remember that what this term really means is physical distancing. Thankfully, technology, the outdoors and other means provide plenty of safe ways for us to maintain social contacts with each other, and putting effort into strengthening those contacts can save lives.

September is suicide prevention month. In the Rappahannock Area Health District, middle-aged white males make up the majority of deaths by suicide. But the pandemic and the economic turmoil it has wrought have brought new anxieties and pressures to many households, while also isolating many individuals from support systems that are crucial to their mental health.

That makes it more important than ever to check on loved ones, know the warning signs of a mental health crisis and understand that resources that exist in this community to help people in crisis.


Support is Vital

James Dayton-Olsen is the in-house therapist at the Sunshine Lady House for Mental Health Wellness and Recovery, a voluntary in-house crisis stabilization unit located in the city of Fredericksburg and operated by the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board (RACSB). A large portion of the individuals he treats at the Sunshine Lady House have exhibited recent suicidal behaviors.

Overwhelmingly, he says, social support is the most important factor in an individual’s success as they seek treatment.

“There is no greater predictor of positive outcomes than the extent to which someone is supported by family and friends,” he said. “Healing occurs through human connection. If we have an individual who is deprived of social supports or meaningful connection with others, then that is an uphill battle.”

Self-isolation, and withdrawing from friends and family, are key warning signs that someone may be considering suicide. For those who are struggling, it is important to fight the urge to isolate, Dayton-Olsen said.

“If you are experiencing a sense of hopelessness, pick up the phone and call somebody—a family, a friend, a supporter. Be honest about what is happening to you and what you are feeling, regardless of whether you even understand what is happening to you,” he said.

Establishing contact with an empathetic person can make all the difference, but taking that step to make contact is easier said than done.

“The cruel irony of depression is that when you are at your lowest point, you feel this pull to just be alone. It feels like the phone weighs 100 pounds,” he said. “Sharing that dark place feels like too much for a lot of folks.”

This is where loved ones can help.


Know the Signs and Play a Role

If you observe someone in your life who is withdrawing from people and activities they typically enjoy, or who is ceasing self-care routines that had been well-established, such as hygiene, exercise and other wellness activities, this individual may be having a mental health crisis.

Other warning signs include the inability to experience pleasure, sleep and appetite disturbance, increased use of alcohol or drugs and talk about hopelessness or wanting to die or kill oneself. It is important not to ignore signs like this, and to not be afraid to speak directly to someone who may be in crisis.

“Start with an honest conversation,” Dayton-Olsen recommends. “Say, ‘Here is what I am seeing, and I am worried. Are these concerns legitimate?’ … I would advocate that people get comfortable with reaching out and having that difficult conversation. It may very well save someone’s life.”

Karla Lewis is an Emergency Services Therapist for RACSB. Emergency Services is a 24/7 resource that provides counseling and referrals to community resources, as well as triage for psychiatric hospitalizations.

Lewis points out that starting a conversation like this can be particularly hard for parents who see warning signs in their children. But it is important not to avoid the hard questions.

“You can’t put suicidal thoughts in someone’s head. Asking them if they want to live or die is just as clear as day, and that is how I tell parents to ask it,” she said.

For older adults who may live on their own, the pandemic has introduced a new level of isolation.

“If you have loved ones who isolate a lot or who used to contact you and you don’t hear from them at all now, it’s important to check on them,” Lewis advises.

There is a Path to Help

Individuals who are struggling, and those who are concerned about loved ones should know that many resources exist in the Fredericksburg community to help those who are at risk for death by suicide.

Emergency Services is available 24/7 to those seeking help.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a psychiatric crisis, you can call Emergency Services at any time of day to work with a trained professional to figure out the next best step. In Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties, call 540-373-6876. In Caroline County, call 804-633-4148. In King George County, call 540-775-5064.

“You will get someone on the line right away,” Lewis said. “We start with ‘What’s going on, how can I help you?’” and can then walk callers through everything from how to find a therapist to making a decision about hospitalization.”

“We are walking with you through your journey and helping you figure out the next best step to take to live a better life,” Lewis said. “Make the call. Ask the hard questions. This is your time to get your thoughts out and bounce ideas off people. That is why we have that line and it’s 24/7. We want you to have those resources.”

To learn more about area mental health resources, visit


Stay tuned to the Fredericksburg Parent and Family Facebook page and YouTube channel for a video interview with mental health professional at RACSB during the month of September.


Warning Signs of Suicidality

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself, such as searching online, stashing medications, or buying a firearm
  • Talking about feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

If you or someone you care about feels overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression or anxiety, or like you want to harm yourself or others call RACSB Emergency Services Therapists at 540-373-6876. They’re available 24/7. You can also call 911 and ask for a CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) trained officer.

You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (Press 1 for service members, veterans, and their families) or text “Hello” to 741741 to talk to a Crisis Text Line counselor. The Trevor Project Hotline provides support to the LGBTQ community at 1-866-488-7386 or text them at 678678. Por favor, ayudame este numero 1-888-628-9454.


RACSB offers both adult and youth Mental Health First Aid courses as well as ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) to interested community members seeking to help those experiencing a mental health-related crisis. Visit to learn more.