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Suicide Prevention: Reaching Out

New NAMI Guides Focus on Suicide-Attempt Survivors

November 2005

NAMI has published a special set of guides to help people who attempt suicide and come into contact with hospital emergency rooms.

Each set consists of three brochures in English and two in Spanish. The brochures seek to educate the key participants in the crisis: medical professionals, family members, and patients themselves, in order to reduce the risk of further attempts. The guide for medical professionals has already been distributed to over 400 hospital emergency departments around the country.

NAMI produced the guides under a grant from the Suicide Prevention Center of the federal Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) They can be downloaded free from the NAMI Web site or ordered in packets of 50 (ten of each brochure)  through the NAMI Online Store or by calling 1-800/950-NAMI (6264). NAMI members are encouraged to share this information with hospital administrators in their communities.

The project is part of a national response to an urgent crisis.

Each year more than 30,000 people take their own lives by suicide. Since the U.S. Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent Suicide in 1999, focus on the link between mental illness and suicide has been increasing -- but much remains to be done.

The 2003 suicide of Garrett Lee Smith, son of  U.S. Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, after a long struggle with bipolar disorder, led to passage of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (Public Law 108-355) and subsequent funding for college and youth suicide prevention programs, including a national resource center to assist in their development, implementation, and evaluation.

The First National Conference for Survivors of Suicide Attempts, Healthcare Professionals, Clergy and Laity met in Memphis, Tennessee on October 19-21. Actress Margot Kidder helped raise its public profile as a celebrity speaker. "Our job is to go out there and remove stigma by speaking up," she declared. "When the stigma is gone we can save lives -- that is what this is about … saving lives."

She shared her own experiences with bipolar disorder and described her path to wellness as "being of service to others, being accepted, and being loved."

Dr. Annette Beautrais of New Zealand spoke about suicide attempts from a global perspective.  She shared the results of a research study that sent postcards to individuals who had come into an emergency room after a suicide attempt.

Postcards were sent at 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 months intervals following an attempt.  The text was quite simple: "Dear ___,  It has been a short time since you were here at the Newcastle Mater Hospital, and we hope that things are going well for you.  If you wish to drop us a note we would be happy to hear from you," along with the names of the attending doctors.

At the end of one year, the simple act of reaching out to someone through a postcard was thought to have helped reduce repeat episodes by nearly 50%. In the United States, the approximate cost of the intervention would be $4.70 per person.

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