How To Prevent Soaring Suicides
By Mike McManus
Suicide is now the 10th largest
cause of death in America.
It now claims more lives than motor vehicle accidents, a
dramatic change from 2006 when there were 45,300 highway deaths
and only 33,300 suicides. By 2009 36,900 committed suicide while
only 34,500 died in car crashes.
In 2010 37,900 Americans killed themselves.
Why are these numbers growing? A major factor is that 2 million
troops have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, some of whom come
home with post-traumatic stress. Every day 18 commit suicide,
about 7,000 a year. That’s more than have been lost on
battlefields in a decade of war! In fact, 1,100 active duty
members of the Armed Forces took their lives from 2005-2009.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified recently that
preventing military suicide “is one of the most frustrating
problems I have come across as Secretary of Defense.”
Suicide is among the top five causes of death for adults under
age 45, and ranks 3rd for young people.
Those who die by suicide are not the only ones affected by this
tragedy. It exacts a heavy toll on those left behind as well –
family, friends, classmates, clergy and colleagues.
What’s shocking is that for every person who kills himself, more
than 30 others attempt suicide – a million Americans annually.
And 8 million adults reported having serious thoughts of suicide
in the past year. In fact, more than 2.2 million made suicide
Thus, suicide is a major health issue that must be addressed by
government at all levels, health care systems, businesses,
schools, insurers and by millions of individuals.
The goal must be to give those people who are struggling with
depression and thoughts of suicide the services and support they
need to recover and regain hope and health.
“Yet suicidal behaviors often continue to be met with silence
and shame. The attitudes can be formidable barriers to providing
care and support to individuals in crisis and to those who have
lost a loved one to suicide,” reports the 2012 National Strategy
for Suicide Prevention.
Therefore, it recommends a “public awareness campaign” to raise
cognizance of the signs and symptoms of those at risk for
suicide. Excellent suggestion.
The most important thing to know about those with suicidal
thoughts is that they are symptoms of a treatable illness –
depression, which can be lifted with drugs and therapy. They are
not people with “character flaws or signs of personal weakness.”
Experts suggest watching for these symptoms: intense sadness,
hopelessness, lethargy, loss of appetite, disruption of sleep,
decreased ability to perform usual tasks and loss of interest in
once-pleasurable activities. Ask such a person if they have had
Reassure them that these are symptoms of a treatable illness
that can be overcome, but help them to see a physician or mental
health expert – immediately. Give them this National Suicide
Prevention Helpline: 800 273-TALK.
Call the number yourself to contact support groups in your area.
I spoke to a local leader of one with 20-25 people who meet
weekly. These people who came close to suicide themselves, can
provide emotional support and practical suggestions. They will
warn: do not drink or take recreational drugs.
While men are four times as likely to die by suicide than women,
women attempt suicide three times as often as men.
The major killer is guns, which were responsible for more than
half of all suicides. Western states, with the most guns, have
the highest suicide rates. The Northeast with tougher gun laws,
have the lowest suicide rates. Guns should be removed from any
home of a person with suicidal thoughts.
Some groups are particularly vulnerable according to the
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP): those who
once attempted suicide or who had a family member who killed
himself; alcohol or drug abuse, particularly when combined with
depression; elderly Caucasians, especially those whose spouse
died, or who say, “My family would be better off without me.”
Gay teenagers, who are often victims of bullying, are also at
AFSP has created an innovative anonymous Interactive Screening
Program for college students which has been effective in getting
depressed students into treatment at 50+ colleges. Fifteen
percent of students are depressed and need help.
Finally AFSP has created an “Out of the Darkness Community Walk
campaign,” that will have 100,000 walkers in 275 walks, raising
awareness and funds to help. (Go to AFSP.org for more
Remember: Suicide is a permanent solution to a problem that is
2019: Column 1965: Protecting Girls from Suicide
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