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How to Recognize Signs of Suicide

Thursday is National Depression Screening Day (NDSD). An estimated 2,500 to 3,000 sites across the country will participate in the campaign to treat depression. This year, for the first time NDSD is teaching the public how to recognize the signs of suicide.

SOS, or Signs of Suicide, program trains people how to react and what specific steps to take if a friend or loved one exhibits suicidal behavior. According to the Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, suicide is serious health problem taking a devastating toll across the country. Dr. Emily Seney explains how viewers can learn the CPR of suicide.

The National Depression Screening Day, held each year during Mental Illness Awareness Week, is designed to call attention to the illnesses of depression and manic-depression on a national level, to educate the public about their symptoms and effective treatments, to offer individuals the opportunity to be screened for the disorders, and to connect those in need of treatment to the mental health care system.

The goal is to provide individuals who form the social network around a suicidal person with tools for listening and hearing suicidal statements, recognizing those signs for what they are, and strategies for getting the person into appropriate treatment.

CPR and Heimlich

The organizers of this event want to teach people how to react to suicide like they would to any other health emergency. For example, if you are sitting across from your best friend at dinner and he starts to choke, what do you do? The Heimlich maneuver. But, what if your friend told you he has no hope for the future and wanted to die. Most of us would have no idea how to react. This program hopes to bring awareness to the signs of suicide and teach people what they call the CPR of suicide.




The Numbers

Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the US, claiming approximately 31,000 lives each year.

Teen suicide rates have doubled since the 1950s.

An average of one person every 17.2 minutes takes his or her own life.

An estimated five million living Americans have attempted suicide.

Nearly 3 of every 5 suicides in 1997 were committed with a firearm.


Surgeon General's Program

The effort to create a national suicide prevention program was launched last year by Surgeon General David Satcher, who noted that far more Americans die from suicide than from homicide. The Surgeon General's office is seeking help from state, tribal and local government agencies, along with schools, churches, hospitals, insurance companies and helth maintenance organizations among others. Much of the effort is directed at teenagers because accidents and suicide are the leading causes of death in that age group, and both are very preventable.

Interview with Dr. Emily Senay

Unfortunately suicidal behavior is often dismissed. Why are we so bad at reacting to it?

Suicide is often misunderstood. Suicide prevention experts continue to promote public awareness of the risks. But, there is a stigma associated with suicidal behavior and the idea that people can just "snap out of it." The goal of this program is to teach people to react to it like they would to other health emergencies like choking or having a heart attack, making recognizing the signs of suicide akin to CPR or the Heimlich maneuver.

It's estimated that seven out of ten people who commit suicide tell somebody about it in advance. Let's take a look at some signs for adults.

Making a will or paying off debts.

Giving away prized possessins.

Total disregard for hygiene/dress.

Excessive interest in suicide.

This campaign is also teaching parents what to listen for when it comes to their teenagers. Let's go over what could be "red flags."

Life isn't worth living.

I feel there's no way out.

Nobody understands me.

My family would be better off without me.

Take my CD player and CDs.

There is a theme here. In both adults and children it's evident that these are all signs of hopelessness about the future. It's extreme sadness and signs of depression and preparing to go away or say good bye. These people are in deep emotional pain and they're searching for a way to escape it.

What should you do if you suspect a friend or loved one may be suicidal?

First, take it seriously. Like we said, a majority of those who commit suicide give some warnings of their intentions. Be willing to listen, people are more willing to seek help if you listen to them. Also, voice your concern and let the person know you understand. Reassure them that they are not alone and although suicidal feelings are powerful, they can be treated. And, ask if they have a plan for committing suicide and how far along they've gone in carrying it out. The bottom line, get professional help immediately.

Are there some things we should "not" do when responding to someone who may be suicidal?

Yes, first don't act shocked or surprised at what the person says. Don't assume the situation will take care of itself. Don't be sworn to secrecy or challenge or dare the person. And, don't leave the person alone. Get professional help.

Here is a number to call for more information on suicide 1-888 805-1000

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