BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The month of September is recognized as suicide prevention awareness month.

The new national 988 suicide and crisis hotline launched in July. The hotline directly connects you to local resources for immediate help.

“I think it’s really been a game changer for our community and country overall,” said Tonja Myles, Certified Peer Specialist and Trauma expert.

Myles is a three-time suicide-attempt survivor. She says the new hotline has seen a 45% increase in calls nationally compared to this time last year.

The latest report from the 988 National Network, shows that one month into the launch, professionals received a total of 2,340 calls from Louisiana. The average call time last nearly 13 minutes.

Nationally there is a death by suicide every 11 minutes, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

In Louisiana more than 600 suicides took place in 2020, Dr. Dee Barfield with Blue Cross Blue Shield says suicide can impact any community, but most importantly it is preventable.

“You want to reach out to folks especially if they have might be struggling or if you don’t see them as often as you used to,” said Dr. Barfield. “It’s ok to say I need help.”

Myles says there’s an uptick of suicides among black men in East Baton Rouge parish.

“The numbers are alarming,” she said. “We have to do a better job of making sure men’s, boys know that you know its okay for you to not be okay as well, and it doesn’t make you weak.”

Warning signs include:

  • social withdrawal
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • increasing alcohol or drug use
  • feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
  • experiencing dramatic mood changes

Blue Cross Blue Shield provides the following common suicide risk factors:

  • Having severe mental illness
  • Going through a very serious or disruptive life change or crisis like the death of a loved one
  • Financial or legal difficulties
  • Lack of access to health care
  • Not feeling like you have a strong or adequate social support system

Experts say the time to talk about mental health is now.

“We have to ingrate behavioral health and mental health into our daily routine,” said Myles.

Barfield says good mental health can be practiced by regular exercise, healthy eating and getting enough rest.

Anyone experiencing a crisis can call the 24/7 hotline, at 988.