No gift is more precious than life. So while there are many serious issues facing American families, one of the most tragic is that of suicide and this fact was brought home to me last week during Suicide Prevention Week. To be clear, suicide is a serious public health problem that takes an enormous toll on families, friends, classmates, co-workers and communities.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recently provided some information and facts that I felt were important for me to share with you. Nationally, there are 38,364 deaths annually by suicide and in Missouri there are 856. The vast majority of those contemplating suicide do not necessarily want to end their lives but rather are seeking an end to intense mental and/or physical pain and don’t know who or where else to turn. Most of these folks struggling with these issues have a mental illness and with an appropriate intervention that gets them the services and care they need, lives can be saved.
More than 90 percent of people who take their own lives have at least one and often more than one treatable mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and/or alcohol and substance abuse. Clearly, with better recognition and treatment many suicides can be prevented.
For example, when you fear someone you know is in crisis or depressed, asking them if they are thinking about suicide can actually help. By giving a person an opportunity to open up and share their troubles you can help alleviate their pain and find solutions.
Due to the horrific tragedies we have had over the years particularly in our schools, it is more important than ever to improve this country’s mental health services and equip our communities with the knowledge and resources to recognize issues early on and before they escalate to hurting oneself or others. Additionally, with more of our troops returning home from the Middle East, a number of them are in need of more and better mental health services as well as other active duty troops and veterans. In fact, from 2001-2011, the rate of mental health diagnoses among active duty service members increased by nearly 65 percent. Unfortunately, I fear that the number suffering from mental health illness is even greater but that many of these heroes are not accessing help because of the stigma attached to such disorders and because of a lack of resources.
Missouri has taken a strong lead in educating its communities. Our Department of Mental Health, in collaboration with Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, operates Mental Health First Aid USA which is a ground breaking public education program that holds a number of mental health awareness courses throughout the country. There is likely a course available to you and your community in the next few months, so I encourage you to think about what role you can and want to play in bettering mental health awareness and services. Because mental health is such a personal and private issue, I truly believe that neighbors, family, friends and local communities can provide a significant safety and security mechanism to prevent suicide and combat mental illness.
As human beings, we all have an inherent need to help our neighbor and I can think of no greater decision than to reach out to someone who may be exhibiting the signs that can lead to suicide. I encourage you to visit http://mentalhealthfirstaid.org and http://afsp.org which offers a variety of resources including phone numbers and additional websites to help you better understand the warning signs and to find help. We must do all we can to help our neighbors and I can think of nothing more important than saving a life.
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