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Suicide Prevention: Remembering A Dear Friend

Every person has value. That's why the loss of lives to suicide is a profound tragedy and why September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
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Every person has value. That's why the loss of lives to suicide is a profound tragedy and why September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

The U.S, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that suicides in the United States have increased almost 25 percent over the past 25 years. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall, the 3rd leading cause for young people ages 10-24 and the 2nd for ages 15-24.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also reported recently that 10 million adults seriously considered suicide in 2015 and 1.4 million attempted suicide, but lived.

Despite these grim statistics, suicide has not been addressed as the public health crisis that it is. Each person who dies by suicide represents a loss of light in the world. The emotional pain that contributes to suicide does not end; it is transferred to the person's survivors: family, friends and everyone else whom the person's life touched. Their loss affects all of us as they will not contribute to our communities, schools and workplaces.

Some survivors never recover from the loss. Others are affected in ways that change their sense of purpose.

No one should face mental illness alone. Everyone should be prepared to reach out and help a person in distress.

When I was in college, I shared a suite of rooms with several women. One of them struggled with major depression. I had no experience with mental illness at that point. I didn't understand it. I thought she could cheer up, focus on the bright side, and go to more parties

All the wrong things to say and do.

She attempted suicide and left school. I graduated and moved away. At one point, she was scheduled to come for a visit, but canceled. Shortly thereafter, I received the news of her death by suicide.

She faced mental illness alone, because I could not provide better support. I lacked enough knowledge and understanding to help. My career has been dedicated to making sure that this does not happen to anyone else.

Individuals, local communities, states and the federal government must all make a commitment to that cause. We can start by making sure that everyone knows warning signs and risk factors for suicide. They include:

• Threats or comments about killing themselves
• Social withdrawal
• Reckless behavior
• Giving away possessions
• A shift in mood from despair to calmness

If someone is struggling, family members, caregivers and close friends should have a crisis plan prepared in advance, with copies kept in several places, such as a kitchen or desk drawer, smartphone or wallet.

It also is necessary to take preventive action before a suicidal crisis actually occurs. This includes:

• Speaking calmly and if more than one person is present, only one person at a time. Don't argue.,
• Asking openly and honestly "Are you having thoughts about suicide?" and "Do you have a plan to kill yourself?".
• Ask simple, direct questions such as "Can I help you call your psychiatrist?"
• Remove access to potential means of suicide such as guns, knives or large amounts of pills.

Individuals who are in distress and feeling suicidal or family members and caregivers who are with them can call for help through the National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273 TALK (8255).

Technology is expanding avenues for assistance. For example, Crisis Text Line
enables people to text 741741 from anywhere in the United States to text with a trained crisis counselor. The free service preserves anonymity while compiling data that can be used for public education and improving suicide preventions programs and policies. Since August 2013, almost 23 million messages have been exchanged on the text line.

More accurate diagnosis of suicide ideation can also strengthen prevention. Massachusetts General Hospital and Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island, for example, are working to develop new monitoring procedures using smartphones and other technology to predict suicide attempts before they happen. Researchers, however, point to lack of enough funding as one of the biggest challenges tor strengthening prevention.

As a nation, if we are to fulfill our commitment to the cause--the cause through which I honor my friend--it will require greater investment in education, research, suicide prevention and mental health care. Mental illness can strike anyone at any time. Lives of loved ones depend on us.


If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

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