By Dr. Hatim Omar
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Suicide and related behaviors are a significant health and public policy concern. In 2005, over 32,000 suicides occurred in the United States, making suicide the 11th leading cause of death and the third leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24.
Thousands more are hospitalized or treated in ambulatory care settings as a result from suicide attempts. In 2000, the cost of medical treatment for injuries resulting from suicidal behavior was $1 billion, which indicates that suicidal behavior has a significant financial cost, in addition to the well documented emotional and psychological toll it has on survivors, family, and friends.
Kentucky's suicide rate is 18th highest in the nation. Statewide, over 500 lives are lost to suicide each year, almost twice the number of deaths from homicide and HIV-related illness combined. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Kentuckians 18-34 years of age. In addition, in 2003, self-inflicted injuries accounted for almost 3,000 hospital admissions.
The Stop Youth Suicide (SYS) campaign consists of a diverse group of physicians, mental health providers, health care administrators, students, volunteers and policy makers who are committed to responding to this pressing issue and exploring ways to reduce the rate of suicide among Kentucky youths. SYS attempts to raise awareness of suicide and to formulate and implement prevention and intervention programs.
Informed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Strategic Direction for the Prevention of Suicidal Behavior, SYS recognizes that suicidal behavior is a complex phenomenon with multiple causal pathways. As a result, SYS is dedicated to responding to this problem by employing a multifaceted approach.
This approach recognizes the vital importance of building new connections, as well as augmenting existing connections, among individuals at risk, their families, communities and institutions. Guided by this approach, SYS designs and implements suicide prevention. It is anticipated that significant progress in addressing youth suicide will continue to be achieved as the connections among these stakeholders are enhanced and coordinated and intervention efforts are undertaken.
Since the SYS campaign began in 2000, 14 adolescent lives have been documented as saved, emergency room visits for suicide attempts in two local hospitals are down from 200 to 120 per year, and the total number of suicides has declined by 20 percent over the past five years in Fayette County. The SYS Web site (www.stopyouthsuicide.com) also serves as a resource, providing phone numbers to crisis lines, which have been heavily utilized by teens.
Suicide is preventable. Adolescents can find help by calling the 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-800-928-8000, the teen hotline at 1-800-999-9999 or UK Adolescent Medicine at (859) 323-5643.
Dr. Hatim Omar is a professor of pediatrics and obstetrics/gynecology, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, a pediatrician at Kentucky Children's Hospital, and chief of Adolescent Medicine and Young Parent Program at Kentucky Children's Hospital.