National Suicide Prevention Strategy Must Emphasize Screening, Treatment, and End to Stigma

Statement by Richard C. Birkel, Ph.D., Executive Director The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)

May 02 2001

NAMI commends Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D. for his leadership in producing the National Suicide Prevention Strategy being released today, building on his Call to Action to Prevent Suicide in 1999.

The strategy complements the Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health published in 1999 and the Surgeon General's National Action Plan on Children's Mental Health released earlier this year. Taken together, these documents emphasize the need for early screening of mental illnesses and access to treatment-as well as the elimination of stigma, born of ignorance and fear, that keeps too many people from seeking help.

Every year, more than 30,000 Americans take their own lives. Suicide is the eighth-leading cause of death in the United States, and the third among our youth, ages 15 to 24. Most suffer from treatable mental illnesses: biological imbalances in the brain, which distort rational thinking and can lead to tragic choices. The majority suffer from some form of depression.

Suicide is not the result of a lack of character or courage. Unfortunately, the stigma that surrounds mental illness extends to suicide as well. Treatment works, but only if a person gets it. No one should be ashamed to ask for help. No one should hesitate to express concern and to offer others the help they need.

The best way to prevent suicide is through early recognition, diagnosis, and treatment. Routine screening by physicians and public education at all levels is essential to address what is a public health crisis.