U.S. Officials Launch New Strategy to Prevent Suicide

New national strategy encourages talking frankly about suicide, taps Facebook as a prevention tool.

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Indeed, we can all be alert to warning signs. If someone is talking about wanting to die or feeling hopeless, trapped, in unbearable pain, or like a burden to others, that's a red flag. Be attuned to increased use of alcohol or drugs; acting anxious, agitated, or reckless; sleeping too little or too much; withdrawing or feeling isolated; showing rage or talking about seeking revenge; and displaying extreme mood swings.

And watch for pleas for help on social media platforms. "All too often, people in crisis don't know how—or who—to ask for help," said Marne Levine, Facebook's global vice president for public policy. "Sometimes, they turn to social networks in their most vulnerable moments. We have a unique opportunity to provide the right resources to our users in distress, when and where they need them most." On Monday, Levine described a new Facebook service that allows users to report suicidal comments they see online. Site moderators send the potential victim a personalized email, urging him to call a crisis hotline or to log on and chat confidentially with a counselor.

[See How to Identify Suicide Risk Before It's Too Late]

The Facebook service speaks to the fact that connectedness helps. Being close to and actively engaged with family members, teachers, coworkers, community organizations, and other social institutions helps protect against suicide risk. And that's one way we can all make a difference, said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. If you feel even a twinge of concern that something is "off," ask: "Are you thinking of hurting yourself?" "That simple act can start a conversation that can actually save lives," Sebelius said. Other ways to make a difference:

• Always express concern when you feel it. It won't put an idea in their heads, or make it more likely that they'll attempt suicide.

• Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK.

• Remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.

• Don't leave him or her alone.

• Take the person to the emergency room.

"We now know what we didn't know 15 years ago—or we didn't understand—which is that suicide is preventable," Benjamin said. "So prevention is where we're focusing now."