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Leg Med (Tokyo). 2009 Apr;11 Suppl 1:S13-7. doi: 10.1016/j.legalmed.2009.01.106. Epub 2009 Mar 17.

Awareness in nine countries: a public health approach to suicide prevention.

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  • 1Columbia University-New York State Psychiatric Institute, 1051 Riverside Drive, Unit 43, New York, NY, USA.


Suicide is an important public health problem, increasing worldwide, and on a yearly basis accounting for the death of more than one million people, with estimates as high as 10-20 times that many attempting to take their own life. Because successful suicide prevention depends upon recognition of symptoms of mental ill-health, awareness of these signs is a necessary precondition. The ability and responsibility for recognizing signs and symptoms of suicide, until most recently, however, was the exclusive purview of mental health professionals. Lately, there have been efforts to screen high risk populations and to train others to effectively respond to suicidal behavior, including classic first responders, primary care providers, hot line operators, teachers, etc. But what about everyone else who may have an opportunity to prevent a suicide simply by knowing when to ask questions, what to listen for, and understanding when additional assistance is warranted? What about the suicidal person who wants to tell someone about their distress but "knows" that such a conversation will not help nor be well-received? Where does a person living where mental health services are lacking or are beyond one's financial means turn to for relief and assistance? Does not Public Health have something to offer in response to these pressing questions? In 2002-2005, a study was carried out in nine countries, distributed over five continents, under the auspices and support of the Presidential Commission of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions (IACAPAP), to test the feasibility and effectiveness of raising awareness and increasing knowledge about child mental health, including suicidality, among students, teachers and parents. Implications for this approach as a model for suicide prevention are presented.

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