LEADERSHIP VOICES

Suicide is a preventable public health problem
With David M. Satcher, MD, PhD

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Suicide exacts an enormous toll from the American people. Our nation loses 30,000 lives to this tragedy each year - about 50 percent more than the number of homicides.

Moreover, another 650,000 people receive emergency care annually after attempting suicide. Devastating trauma, loss and suffering are multiplied in family members and friends who struggle to make sense of why someone would want to take their life. This struggle is reflected in physical, psychological, family, workplace and community well-being adversely impacted by each attempted or completed suicide. Because of this, suicide - the events leading up to it and its aftermath - has serious and far-reaching public health implications.

If we are to reduce suicide in our country, we must first recognize its connection to mental illness. Second, we must effectively diagnose and treat mental illness. Finally, we must provide supportive community environments devoid of stigma and barriers that can give hope and help to at-risk individuals. Only then can we expect to reduce the number of lives lost to suicide.

The public health approach to suicide prevention is highlighted in this inaugural issue of Advancing Suicide Prevention® and in the 2001 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention issued during my term as U.S. Surgeon General. This approach integrates suicide prevention into all facets of our society including schools, workplaces, clinics, medical offices, correctional and detention centers, eldercare facilities, faith-based institutions and community centers. It emphasizes educating broad publics that suicide is indeed preventable. Because its effects are societal in scope and tragic in their consequences, suicide prevention is everyone's business.

David Satcher, MD, PhD
Morehouse School of Medicine
16th U.S. Surgeon General