The brain has a mind of its own, particularly when it’s trying to kill you. It can say nasty things, based not in reality but in old patterns, fears, and intensified emotion. Since most suicidal thinkers don’t want to die—what they want is relief from emotional pain—it’s important to stay alive and healthy long enough to find the relief that’s out there (and inside of you).
So writes Susan Rose Blauner, a survivor of multiple suicide attempts who spoke recently at EDC, in a visit hosted by the National Center for Suicide Prevention Training. As one of an estimated five million living Americans who have attempted suicide, Blauner discussed her struggle with the feelings and fantasies surrounding suicide and her search for help.
Making sure help is available to professionals who work to prevent suicide is one of the primary goals of the National Center for Suicide Prevention Training, which was established in October 2001. A collaborative project of EDC (where it is based), the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and the Northeast Injury Prevention Network, the Center provides educational resources for public officials, service providers, and local community coalitions in order to develop effective suicide prevention programs and policies.
“One of our main goals is to promote awareness of the problem of youth suicide,” says Center Director Deborah M. Stone, MPH, MSW. “There are more suicides than homicides every year, and for young people ages 15-24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. We know there are ways to prevent suicide and that’s what we want to emphasize.”
The Center offers scores of resources, articles, and links on its Web sitein order to make information about the issue widely available. As part of the Center’s mission, Stone said it is critical to dispel the myths surrounding suicide. One such myth is that just talking about suicide may give someone the idea. Experts say the opposite is true—for someone who is at risk, bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do. Another myth suggests that if a person is determined to kill himself, nothing is going to stop him. Those in the field say that’s false, because even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, and many suicidal people do not want death; they want the pain they feel to stop.
In addition to the Web site, the Center will offer workshops, with the first offering called “Locating, Understanding, and Presenting Youth Suicide Data” for state and local health officials, mental health and health care providers, and community-based suicide prevention planners. The workshop will be piloted in the Northeast this fall and presented nationwide early in 2003, with the goal of helping those in the field find and use appropriate suicide data and information in order to reach and influence policymakers. The ultimate goal is to increase funding, resources, and support for suicide prevention programs in every state.
It’s a good time for such an education program, according to Stone. “Under a directive issued in 1999 by the U.S. Surgeon General, and development of a national strategy to prevent suicide, every state in the country was encouraged to create a statewide suicide prevention plan. Our Center is in a good position to help develop or strengthen those plans by offering public health professionals tools they need. We can also facilitate networking and communication among suicide prevention practitioners across the country,” she said.
The Center plans additional workshops including one on program planning and evaluation for suicide prevention, and another on “gatekeeper” training—that is, training for people who are in contact with youth on a regular basis and can help identify and respond to those at risk of suicide.
The National Center for Suicide Prevention Training is a project of EDC’s Health and Human Development Programs. The project has been funded for three years by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Human Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It’s a program Stone hopes will continue. “When I hear someone like Susan Blauner describe her turmoil and pain, I know we need to do more for people in her situation,” she said. “I feel compelled to continue this work.”
Originally published on September 1, 2002