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Editorial: Suicide takes a terrible toll

Suicide is a difficult subject to discuss, especially for those who’ve been personally touched by it.
That reluctance to talk about a serious public health issue — to treat it as something that shouldn’t be mentioned in polite conversation — is part of the problem. So long as we treat suicide as an aberrational impulse or, even worse, as a character “weakness,” rather than as the symptom of treatable mental illness, we contribute to the stigmatization that stands in the way of understanding, compassion and fuller accessibility to prevention and education for victims and their loved ones.
The subject arises now because of the death of former Spencer mayor Alicia Bean this past weekend by an apparently self-inflicted gunshot. Bean’s former position in the community and the public nature of some of her struggles make this case different from others that never make the news. Yet the tragedy is an all too common one, repeated 100 times a day in this country. More than 36,000 Americans take their lives each year, federal statistics show. Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death, according to the National Centers for Disease Control, up from 11th in previous studies. High as it is, that number understates the extent of those who seek to end their own lives. More than 163,000 people are hospitalized each year because of intentionally self-inflicted injuries. They range from troubled teens to senior citizens coping with loneliness and failing health.
In many of these cases, there are warning signs we all should learn to recognize, such as erratic shifts in behavior, withdrawal from others, increasing use of drugs or alcohol or references to wanting to die or kill oneself. For crisis situations, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) can offer immediate help. Other resources include the American Association of Suicidology (http://www.suicidology.org) and the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (http://www.samhsa.gov/prevention/suicide.aspx). Locally, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which meets twice monthly, can offer support and education, as can private therapists. Medical doctors can provide referrals.
Beyond recognizing symptoms, we need to change attitudes. Suicide or attempted suicide is a consequence of illness, not a cause for shame. It’s a difficult subject, but silence and denial compound misunderstanding.
By all accounts, Alicia Bean was a smart, civic-minded woman who wanted to improve the lives of her fellow citizens. She had sought help for her problems, and her death leaves questions that will never be answered, as well as profound pain and sadness for her loved ones and the community. We can only hope this loss might increase awareness and help prevent similar tragedies in the future.

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