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September 27, 2012
Column #1,622
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 plans!

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 suicidal thoughts.

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 risk.

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 for more information.)

Remember: Suicide is a permanent solution to a problem that is temporary.


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