THE BLOG
09/29/2016 01:13 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2017

Preventing Suicide Takes a Public Health Approach

Co-authored by: Paolo del Vecchio, MSW, Director of SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health Services

"Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off." CDC Director Tom Frieden reminded us of that Paul Brodeur quotation last year while talking to CDC workers about suicide - its devastation and its implications as a public-health issue.

We don't think this could ring more true for any topic that we work on here at CDC's Injury Center and at SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health Services. When we see CDC's National Violent Death Reporting System data each year and reflect on the lives lost, and the circumstances and when we review the number of Americans calling SAMHSA's National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline), it's as if the numbers are still wet with tears. More distressing still is the fact that there are so many more devastated loved ones behind those numbers. Because suicide can and should be prevented.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Each year there are more than 40,000 suicides in the US - an average of about 117 every day. In addition to these deaths, every year some 1.1 million adults attempt suicide and about 470,000 people are treated in U.S. emergency departments for nonfatal, self-inflicted injuries. For every person who dies by suicide, more than 225 people seriously consider it. Rates of suicide have increased by 28 percent since 2000, and it is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. And because these are the mere numbers behind the tears, they do not begin to tell the emotional and financial toll that suicide and suicidal behavior exacts on individuals, families, and communities.

But everyday lives are saved--by mental health therapists, primary care providers, counselors who answer Lifeline calls, and friends, colleagues, and loved ones who notice when someone they care about is in emotional pain.

The time to act is not just on one day, week, or month, the time to act is every day. To do this we'd like to suggest three simple strategies that we all should keep in mind as we interact with colleagues, friends, loved ones, youth, and older adults - and as we care for ourselves.

1. Erase the myths and misperceptions associated with mental illness and help-seeking.
Mental health and substance use disorders are often viewed in such a negative light that people who struggle with these conditions feel too embarrassed and ashamed to talk about them or seek help. But talking, being open, and making connections with mental health services can make the difference between life and death. Research has uncovered warning signs for suicide. Learn warning signs from SAMHSA's Suicide Prevention Resource Center and an easy-to-remember warning signs mnemonic from American Association of Suicidology.

2. Use a public health approach to prevent suicide.
Mental health services are critical for people showing signs of suicidal thoughts or behavior, but we must go beyond this to address the broader community, and societal issues contributing to suicide. Find out more about protective factors and the public health approach at CDC's Division of Violence Prevention. Also, checkout the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention to learn the role every American can play in protecting their friends, family members, and colleagues from suicide and get guidance on preventing suicide in schools, businesses, health systems, clinicians, and many other sectors.

3. Acknowledge that suicide IS preventable.
CDC data give unique insight into the problem of suicide, and these data help us devise, implement, and evaluate prevention strategies. We know what works to prevent suicide.

Let's talk honestly about this difficult issue, use broad collaborative approaches to address the problem, and do all we can to learn more about how to prevent suicide. Help get the message out.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK/8255). Last year the Lifeline connected 1.5 million callers with counselors in their local area. Through a network of more than 160 community crisis centers, the Lifeline also offers specialized support to veterans, Spanish speakers and online users.