New CDC report may lead to more targeted suicide prevention efforts

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ATLANTA, Georgia (WHNT) - A recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds the suicide rate in the US rose 24% from 1999 through 2014.

Other key findings include:

  • Suicide rates increased from 1999 through 2014 for both men and women, ages 10-74
  • The greatest increase was seen in men, ages 45-64
  • Among women, the greatest increase was in girls, ages 10-14
  • Among men, the most frequent method of suicide in 2014 involved firearms (55.4%)
  • For women, the most frequent method was poisoning (34.1%)
  • The increases follow a period of near constant decline in suicide rates from 1986 through 1999
  • For those who work with suicide prevention programs, this is all valuable information.

Dr. David Coombs is president of the Alabama Suicide Prevention and Resources Council or ASPARC.

For example, he says the data that show middle-aged men are particularly vulnerable to suicide could point to more concerted prevention efforts among primary care doctors.

"Most people, especially middle-aged and older people will see a primary care provider within a month of killing themselves or attempting suicide. So, we're trying to get primary care doctors trained to spot people who are very depressed or even hinting that they may be suicidal," Coombs says.

As for the alarming statistical rise in the number of young girls taking their lives, Coombs says the base rate of suicides in this age group was so low that even a few additional deaths would significantly raise the rate.

"But nevertheless, it's an indicator and it's something to watch. I'd say that's something to watch," he says.

For ASPARC, the focus is on prevention. As part of its mission, the group provides free training to first responders and others who may encounter a severely depressed or suicidal individual.

Coombs says that training boils down to: Question - Persuade - Refer.

First, ask the question, directly: Are you thinking of suicide? Are you thinking of killing yourself?A more indirect, "you're not thinking of suicide, are you?" is ineffective, according to Coombs.

"Because that begs for a 'no' answer and it tells the person, 'they don't want to hear anything about this from me.'"

Next, persuade the person to get help, if needed. That can be hard to do, especially if the individual is unwilling because of perceived futility, difficulty or cost.

That brings up the last point - refer. Coombs says resources are available. If necessary, the concerned person should make the referral himself.

As for the fear that talking about suicide could actually cause it, Coombs says - it's a myth. "The research shows, if somebody's suicidal (or even if they're severely depressed), you're not planting the idea."

If you're concerned someone in your family may be suicidal, there's another step ASPARC recommends.

"If you've got a gun in the house that's easily accessible...and you've got somebody that seems to be in crisis, get that gun, take the bullets out, hide them."

This is known as means restriction. Keeping someone from accessing the means they might use to take their life, until the crisis has passed.

Because firearms are one of the most common methods of suicide, ASPARC is supporting a proposal by Professor Fredrick Vars of the University of Alabama School of Law.

The proposal would allow those who fear they may commit suicide to voluntarily - and temporarily - add their names into the federal background check system.

As described, the proposal would "prevent impulsive gun purchase during a suicidal crisis."

The Harvard School of Public Health has done extensive research on means restrictions. You can read more about the Means Matter effort here.

For those interested in learning more about safe home storage of guns, Dr. Coombs recommends the Lok it Up initiative, begun in Washington State.

Of course, if you or someone you know is in crisis, immediate help is available.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-TALK.

When you call the national hotline, you'll be patched through to your nearest local crisis center, where trained staff members are on call 24/7.

In the Huntsville metro area, that is Crisis Services of North Alabama. The center can be reached directly at (256) 716-1000.

In addition, Tennessee offers the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, which Coombs calls one of the best programs in the country.

To learn more about the resources available from TSPN, click here.

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