Suicide Is a Public Health Issue

Health officials are turning to new technology to cure an ancient society curse; suicide. There is to be a new program, primarily on Facebook that aims to cut the worryingly high number of young men in particular, who take that irreversible action. Military service people and veterans are another high risk group.

“America loses approximately 100 Americans every 24 hours from suicide,” report the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They gave a press conference to publicise the problem as well as their latest program to overcome it. Suicide, as a cause of death, is now ranked third in that fearful list. The Surgeon General of the US says too, “It’s time to turn our attention to prevention.” 

This new program brings together the government in Washington, private individuals and corporations, schools and communities to guide public attention toward the problem, get them involved in prevention and to develop longer term, treatments for at-risk groups. During ‘09, the last year we have figures for, there were 37,000 self-inflicted deaths in America and a further half a million people seriously enough depressed, to have attempted suicide.

Promoting the social conditions and mental health that prevents suicide is as big a public health issue as providing clean water, tobacco advertising, or preventing the spread of AIDS. It is shocking to think that “Right now we are losing more of our soldiers to suicide than we are to combat”. according to the Secretary of the Army. Most suicides among military people are definitely not combat related since almost 6 out of every 10 deaths in 2010 were self-inflicted by people who had never been deployed.

It is clear, according to the Army Secretary, “What this tells us is we are dealing with broader societal issues”. Foremost among these are drugs alcohol, family problems and depression.

The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said that in the month of July alone “the Army lost 38 soldiers to suicide — an all-time and [one-] month high.” There was a dip in the suicide rates during the ‘90s but they have begun to rise again in the last few years.

The new initiative is investing $56 million of public money into suicide prevention programs with the support of firms such as Facebook and Value Options. The whole thing is put into law under the ‘Lee Smith Memorial Act’. This legislation itself, was enacted in memoriam of the son of an ex US senator, who committed suicide in ‘03. The senator says, “Our goal is, in the next five years we will save 20,000 human lives. This issue touches nearly every family. It is something we can do something about. It’s the work of angels.”

Facebook’s role in the initiative will be key. It is making permanently available on its platform, a virtual lifeline for those who contact them. Marne Levine is the Facebook vice president for global public policy and was also at the press conference to say, “We provide intervention assistance to people in distress”. She also pointed out that Facebook launched a program in December last, for people who are feeling desperate and at risk of self-harming, to contact ‘Lifeline’, the online suicide prevention counselors. Lifeline provide an effective emergency response service.

Claire Al-Aufi

Claire Al-Aufi is a contributing author for Hive Health Media who provides updates on health and fitness news.

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