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Surgeon General lays out suicide prevention plan

Dr. David Satcher  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saying suicide has "stolen lives," U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher outlined a national strategy for suicide prevention.

Central to the plan is a program to try to reduce the social stigma associated with mental health in general and more specifically suicide, which claims the lives of 30,000 people each year.

The strategy would include public information campaigns in each state to educate people that suicide is preventable, and the development of community-based suicide prevention programs across the United States. Dr. Satcher also urged states to require that health insurance cover mental health and substance abuse.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve talks to Iris Bolton, a suicide aftercare counselor (May 2)

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Satcher press conference Part 1
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Maggie Ming tell her story about recognizing the signs of depression and seeking help (May 2)

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"Suicide has stolen lives and contributed to the disability and suffering of hundreds of thousands of Americans each year," said Satcher. "There are few who escape being touched by the tragedy of suicide in their lifetimes."

According to the office of Surgeon General, more than 650,000 people attempt suicide each year. There are an estimated 16 attempted suicides for each completed suicide. Suicide was the eighth leading cause of death in the United States and the third leading cause of death among young people 15 to 24 years of age.


Satcher outlined his proposals at a news conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Maggie Ming, a 17-year-old student from Norfolk, Virginia, fought back tears as she described how "SOS," a high school suicide prevention program, kept her from taking her life. Ming said she became very depressed after moving to Virginia from Florida, felt lonely and even stopped eating.

"I was considering a permanent solution to a very temporary set of problems. But I found it very difficult to talk about my feelings with anyone."

Interviews with students after they watched a suicide prevention video led to intervention in Ming's case. The 11th grader is now involved in regular counseling sessions.

"Now that I'm learning more about myself, I'm feeling much better. This program helped me to understand that my feelings were not bad -- they were actually kinda' normal -- but they were not healthy."

Satcher called suicide "a national public health problem."

"We should make it clear that suicide prevention is everybody's business. Suicide affects all demographic groups in America."

National Institute of Mental Health statistics shows more men than women taken their own lives. In 1997, NIMH reported that 72 percent of all suicides were committed by white men. In addition, white men commit 79 percent of all firearm suicides.

Praise for Air Force program

The first installment of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (NSSP) outlines 11 goals and 68 objectives to be used in both public and private areas for suicide prevention. The strategy stems from the 1999 "Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent Suicide" which declared suicide a public health problem.

Maggie Ming
Maggie Ming  

Satcher credited the U.S. Air Force with saving lives through its suicide prevention efforts. The program covers 350,000 active duty Air Force members and thousands of civilian employees, and involves every member of the community in suicide education.

"Since the mid-1990s, the suicide rate among Air Force members has fallen by more than one half, and now all the military services are working together to develop and implement policies across the entire Department of Defense to prevent suicide," said Satcher.

The Surgeon General also urged states to implement screenings for mental health disorders by primary care doctors, improve suicide prevention education and training for health care professionals and increase the number of television programs and movies that accurately depict suicide and mental illness.

"The public health approach laid out in this National Strategy represents a rational and organized way to marshal prevention efforts and ensure they are effective," said Satcher.

The United States has never had a national strategy for suicide prevention until now, according to Satcher. Wednesday's report is the first part of on an ongoing effort to develop a comprehensive national strategy for suicide prevention.

Surgeon General issues call to action to prevent suicides
July 28, 1999
U.S. Surgeon General focuses on suicide, mental health
April 17, 1998

Virtual Office of the Surgeon General
Suicide Information and Education Center
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
CDC -- Preventing Suicide - SafeUSA (TM)
Youth Suicide Prevention Program
Suicide Prevention Services, Inc.
International Association for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention Triangle

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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