Ethics & Religion
June 13, 2018
How To Prevent Suicide
By Mike McManus
The recent suicides of handbag designer Kate Spade and Anthony
Bourdain with a weekly televised show on his world travels - two famous,
very wealthy leaders - put a spotlight on suicide which kills 45,000
Americans a year. That's twice the 17,250 who are murdered annually in
In fact, there were 1.3 million unsuccessful suicide attempts last year,
650,000 of whom required medical attention in emergency rooms!
The suicides of Spade and Bourdain have sparked at least a 25% increase
in the number of calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
(800-273-8255). Frankly, I think the increase is vastly higher. I
called this phone number and had to wait through 10 minutes of repeated,
pre-recorded announcements before a live person got on the line.
The only good news is that the calls are coming not just from the
suicidal, but from friends who are worried about people considering
From 2005-2009 there was a 55% increase in emergency room visits by men
aged 21 to 34 for drug related suicide attempts, and a 49% increase by
women over age 50.
On the other hand, the American Medical Association has voted to
reevaluate its long-held opposition to physician-assisted suicide. Dr.
Joseph Marine wrote a powerful column in USA Today opposing the new
openness of the AMA to physicians giving drugs to patients near death
who want to kill themselves:
"The incompatibility of physician-assisted suicide with ethical medical
practice is illustrated by the stunning news published in April that in
Washington D.C. nearly a year after enactment of an assisted suicide
law, only two out of 11,000 licensed physicians (0.02%) had registered
to participate..." Physicians do not want this power.
If physician-assisted suicide is legalized, many relatives of depressed
or elderly relatives will think it is all right to give them
What can be done to reduce suicides in America? I have six suggestions.
- First, pastors should preach on the need to provide pastoral care to
those struggling with mental illness, particularly anyone who has
considered suicide. Clergy should create committees in each church of
physicians, mental health experts, educators and loving church members
who can communicate God's love for all who are in need, and to their
- Second, clergy, teachers and pastoral leaders need to know warning signs
that someone is at risk for suicide. A person who talks about wanting to
die, or who expresses a feeling of hopelessness or of being trapped or
who is in unbearable pain - may be considering killing themselves.
Other danger signs: talking about being a burden to others, or someone
who has increased their use of drugs or alcohol, or is acting anxious or
agitated. They may behave recklessly, withdrawing or feeling isolated.
Some show rage, talk about taking revenge or display extreme mood
- Third, experts and concerned lay people need to establish a relationship
with hospital emergency rooms, and provide care to those who may have
attempted suicide. In Taiwan, emergency room follow-up after suicide
attempts led to a 63% reduction in suicides!
- Fourth, provide training to community, religious and clinical service
providers on the prevention of suicide and related behaviors. That
training should include how to recognize the warning signs for suicide
and actions to take in response.
- Fifth, remove guns from homes of those at risk, and other means of
killing one's self such as excessive numbers of sleeping pills or other
- Sixth, I urge passage of laws, like those passed in Florida after
Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida
February 14, 2018. Afterwards, students campaigned for gun control laws.
The Florida Legislature raised the age for buying rifles from 18 to 21.
It established waiting periods and background checks for gun buyers.
Bump stocks were banned and potentially violent or mentally unstable
people were prohibited from possessing guns. Every state should pass
Congress should also enact similar laws since many states will not
follow Florida's example. The Justice Department should also investigate
and prosecute guns store owners who sell weapons to felons and other
dangerous people or to the many who sell guns without an appropriate
Finally, suicide prevention must be led by people who have experienced
the agony of the suicide of a friend, relative or colleague. For
example, those who have answered 800,000 calls on the Suicide Prevention
Lifeline (800-273-TALK) - should help double the 161 local crisis
centers, and provide a Preventing Suicide Toolkit to every high school.
We can drastically reduce the number of people who kill themselves.
Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and
a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to
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