Suicide and Mental Health: Removing the Shame and Stigma

December 13, 2013

Originally published Jan. 09, 2012

Every 17 minutes another life is lost to suicide. An estimated 30,000 Americans will take their lives this year—that’s 86 people a day—and another 150,000 will attempt suicide.

Every year there are more suicides than homicides in Georgia, according to the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System. In 2009, there were 1,107 suicides and 615 homicides in Georgia.

DPH urges you to think about what you can do over the next 17 minutes to help change the life of someone who is contemplating suicide or to remove the stigma around mental health. The first way to help remove the stigma is to talk about suicide and mental health and to get those persons to treatment and help.

PHWEEK collaborated with Adam M. Lesser and Sally vander Straeten of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) to better understand suicide and mental health. “Suicide is a stigma for some and it goes underground in silence. It makes it difficult for people to talk about it and to know what to do when it affects them,” said Adam M. Lesser, MSW, LCSW, GLS Youth Suicide Prevention Project Director, with DBHDD. “It is very important for friends and family members to offer hope to anyone who may be contemplating suicide. The most important thing is persuading people that there is help.”

“There is shame around suicide and people do not talk about it for that reason,” said Sally vander Straeten, ACSW, Suicide Prevention Program Coordinator for DBHDD. “Georgia is one of the few states with a suicide prevention plan to address this public health problem," she concluded.

According to the National Strategy for Suicide, a suicide prevention plan requires “a variety of organizations and individuals to become involved in suicide prevention and emphasizes coordination of resources and culturally appropriate services at all levels of government – federal, state, tribal and with the private sector.”

Lesser and vander Straeten refer PHWEEK readers to several free resources about suicide prevention:

  • Georgia Crisis & Access Line 1-800-715-4225. Help is available 24/7 for problems with mental health, drugs, or alcohol.
  • The Suicide Prevention Resource Center Their online library is full of useful information
  • Sources of Strength (wellness) model
  • Mental Health First Aid  and search for Mental Health First Aid
  • Take time to record the telephone number for the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at1-800-715-4225 or visit
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Warning signs are what usually precipitate a referral for further evaluation of risk by a mental health professional. The word "FACTS" provides a helpful acrostic for identifying the suicide warning signs:

  • Hopelessness--feeling like things are bad and won't get any better
  • Fear of losing control, going crazy, harming oneself or others
  • Helplessness--a belief that there's nothing that can make life better
  • Worthlessness--feeling useless and of no value
  • Self-hate, guilt, or shame
  • Extreme sadness or loneliness - despair
  • Anxiety or worry


  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Talking or writing about death or destruction
  • Aggression
  • Recklessness
  • Trying to get access to weapons or pills


  • Personality--behaving like a different person, becoming withdrawn, feeling tired all the time, not caring about anything or becoming more talkative or outgoing
  • Behavior--inability to concentrate
  • Sleeping pattern--sleeping all the time or not being able to sleep
  • Eating habits--loss of appetite and/or overeating
  • Losing interest in friends, hobbies, personal appearance
  • Sudden improvement after a period of being down or withdrawn


  • Statements like "How long does it take to bleed to death?"
  • Threats like "I won't be around much longer" or "You'd be better off without me"
  • Making plans, such as studying about ways to die or obtaining the means to self-inflict injury or death
  • Suicide attempts


  • Getting into trouble at school, at home or with the law
  • Recent losses of relationships, opportunities, self-esteem or hope
  • Changes in life that feel overwhelming such as divorce, moving or transitioning after graduation

Being exposed to suicide or the death of a peer or family member under any circumstancesIf you or anyone you know can benefit from the services on suicide prevention, get help today. Seventeen minutes is a matter of life or death. We can either talk about suicide prevention or we can read the obituary section. I would rather find services to help you, me and anyone else talk about suicide as a mental health and public health crisis that is preventable!

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