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Mental Health Center

Surgeon General Releases Suicide-Prevention Strategy

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Praise for the report came from a variety of other mental health groups, ranging from the National Association for the Mentally Ill to the Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network to the American Psychiatric Association.

"The old strategy of just setting up suicide prevention centers really was not terribly helpful," Darrel Regier, MD, tells WebMD. He adds the release today is "a more broad-based mental health screening and treatment approach, focusing particularly on depression, that is a much more responsible approach." Regier is the director of research at the American Psychiatric Association.

The new strategy's first goal, however, is to promote general public awareness that suicide is preventable. "We must remove the stigma of mental health and suicide," Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, said Wednesday.

Berman says, "One of the biggest misconceptions is that 'suicidal people want to die, so why bother?' Death by suicide does not need to be the way to solve the issues that are bothering someone."

The national plan would also increase suicide risk identification and prevention training for nurses, physician assistants, social workers, clergy, family and criminal defense attorneys, corrections workers, and high school teachers.

And doctors need to be better trained in suicide risk detection. According to the Surgeon General's office, among seniors who commit suicide, 75% had visited their physician in the month prior to their death.

"We know that the professional community is poorly trained in dealing with suicidal patients," Berman tells WebMD. "Training is crucial, or we may increase adolescents referring their peers for services, only then to have them get ineffective treatment."

The strategy calls on the media to portray staged suicides in their shows and films more accurately and responsibly, and to report actual suicides with less sensationalism. Suicide experts say that media exposure has led to "copycat" suicides.

The ambitious report would also include depression and suicide risk screening as a quality performance measure for health plans that are seeking national accreditation.

It calls on states, employers, schools, and other community organizations to set up "evidence-based" suicide prevention programs.

But Regier notes that it is challenging to determine what is effective "evidence-based" prevention. "It takes very large population groups to demonstrate whether or not you've done something positive in preventing suicide," he tells WebMD.

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