Suicide: The Preventable Epidemic
Published: Dec 7, 2006

More than 30,000 Americans die by their own hand each year. During 2005 in Florida, 2,308 of our citizens killed themselves, making suicide our ninth leading cause of death, more than twice the homicide rate. For our children, it is the third leading cause of death, taking a toll greater than the total of all fatal diseases. For 25- to 34-year-olds, it is the second leading cause of death.

Yet suicide is seldom mentioned in society, so chilling is any discussion of it. It is this very silence, that lends to suicide’s deadly spread.

Some of the more common warning signs that a person might be considering suicide:

Dramatic behavior changes

Withdrawal from friends, social activities, work, etc.

Making a will or giving away possessions

Talk of suicide or prior suicide attempts

History of mental illness

Taking unnecessary risks, such as abusing drugs or driving drunk

Preoccupation with death and dying

Loss of interest in appearance

Recent loss of loved one, job, etc.

It is estimated that 90 percent of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness. The good news is that mental illnesses, specifically depression and suicidal thoughts, are treatable. Screening helps identify those who are suffering from these conditions. Also essential in the role of identification are loved ones, friends and colleagues who can recognize the signs of depression and take timely, positive actions to respond.

If you know someone who is suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts, there are things you can do to help him or her. Listen actively, encourage positive thinking, remind the person of his or her good characteristics. Give youth an opportunity for success, set up a step-by-step plan to achieve goals, reward positive behavior, and get them involved with activities in their school and community. Assist them in obtaining timely professional care.

Since January 2000, Gov. Jeb Bush has directed the Florida Office of Drug Control to coordinate state efforts to bring down the suicide rate. A Suicide Prevention Task Force is implementing the Florida Suicide Prevention Strategy, accessible at <> . The overarching objective is to decrease the state’s suicide rate by one-third by 2010.

We are encouraged by recent data. Over the past five years, the suicide rate of youth, ages 15-24, has diminished 5.8 percent and the rate of elders, ages 65 and over, has come down by approximately 17.1 percent. Initiatives are in place throughout Florida to reach different age cohorts, ethnic groups, professions and segments of society at disproportionate high risk of suicide.

Suicide is preventable when the signs are recognized early and the root causes are identified and treated. Floridians need to remove the stigma of discussing suicide; it is a matter of life and death.

William H. Janes is director of the Florida Office of Drug Control.