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Suicide is Preventable and Should Be Treated Like a Health Problem

Drunk man sits on sofa with his head in his hands. He is in mental pain. Suicide awareness is a serious issue. If you are having suicidal thoughts or plans, seek help. Time is of the essence.

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Suicide is a health issue that needs to be treated to reduce risks – similar to the way heart disease needs treatment to prevent a heart attack, said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Alexander Silva, non-commissioned officer in charge of the Mental Health Clinic, 316th Medical Squadron, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C.

"Suicide can be prevented," Silva said, and should be destigmatized within our entire culture.

"There is no single cause and that's the biggest takeaway."

One-quarter of all Americans will experience a mental health issue, but "don't think they are doomed to die by suicide," Silva said. He spoke at a Sept. 16 Defense Health Agency event at headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, part of awareness events that were held throughout National Suicide Prevention Week corresponding to World Suicide Prevention Day, which is recognized annually on Sept. 10. He was speaking in his capacity as a representative of a suicide prevention organization.

Health factors often play a role in suicide, especially after life-changing events such as chronic pain from a car accident, Silva said.

While many think of depression as a trigger for suicide, Silva emphasized that "anxiety is a major factor," as are substance use disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, and personality disorders. "It's not just depression."

However, "those in mental health care have a much lower risk of suicide" than those who are not, he said.

Noting that there is "a lot of circumstantial evidence" about suicide that has been compiled over the last few decades, Silva said: "Hopefully, we can move toward harder, empirical evidence in an attempt to decrease suicide rates.

Time is Most Important in a Crisis

He also suggested that "all people should go through therapy" at some point in their lives. "Only 2 in 5 with a mental health condition seek treatment," Silva noted.

"The most important thing about suicide prevention is time," he told the audience.

If you are with a person in crisis "don't leave that person alone." Talk to them and keep the focus on that person. Ask them: "How would you do it if you did want to do it?" Silva suggested.

Get them help right away, and talk to them directly about whether they are actively contemplating suicide. It can be an "uncomfortable conversation," but one that must be had, Silva suggested. "Time will bring the suicidal crisis down."

"It's easy to confuse being a therapist and being a support system," he said. "Avoid trying to convince them that life is worth living. Avoid advice on how to fix the situation." Instead, he said: "Validate and ask for more information and listen."

"We have a moral duty to protect each other," said United States Public Health Service Capt. Meghan Corso, chief, Defense Health Agency Behavioral Health Clinical Operations. "And, there is no wrong door to seeking help," be it a financial advisor, faith leader, or mental health professional, she told the audience.

The Risks of Firearms

DOD data show the most common lethal means of suicide is personal firearms.

Half of all suicides in the United States are due to firearms, Silva added.

Data show that "storing a loaded firearm in the house makes suicide four to six times more likely," Silva said.

The most important thing is "to put distance and time between firearms and a person in crisis," he said. "When you increase the distance, there is some cool-down time." That means locking personal firearms away. "That's because for every suicide, we have 25 attempts."

For help for you, a loved one, or a friend, contact:

National Suicide Prevention Week is an annual week-long campaign in the United States to inform and engage health professionals and the general public about suicide prevention and signs of suicide.

By drawing attention to the problem of suicide, the campaign strives to reduce the stigma surrounding the topic, as well as encourage the pursuit of mental health assistance support for people who have attempted or are contemplating suicide.

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