with John Madigan of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Posted Aug 01, 2018
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The recent deaths of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have brought suicide to the forefront of the national conversation. Now the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, suicide rates have risen more than 25 percent since 1999.
Hyland: Suicide rates are on the rise in the US. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 25 percent increase from 1999 to 2016, and the recent deaths of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have put suicide in the spotlight. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Sheila Hyland. Joining me to discuss this public-health crisis and suicide-prevention efforts is John Madigan, Senior Vice President and Chief Public Policy Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. John, thank you for being with us today. -
Madigan: Great to be here. -
Hyland: And I do understand that you have a personal connection to this issue.
Madigan: I do. I lost my sister Nancy in 1997. So she´d been diagnosed at 14 with a mental illness and had gone to college and had a career, but by age 37, it got so overwhelming that she completed suicide. It doesn´t make me a better lobbyist. It just gives me a different set of eyeglasses as I try to work through the public-policy process as it relates to mental health and suicide prevention.
Hyland: Yeah, you are an advocate for suicide prevention. So a 25 percent increase in suicides. That´s 865 suicides a week in the US. What findings does the CDC report reveal about the rising suicide rate?
Madigan: Well, there are many things that it reveals, but I think what´s most important is that they now focused on the fact that this is a growing crisis within our country and that it´s really important that the average American understand that mental illness is no different than diabetes or heart disease.
Hyland: That´s a good point. But what we want to know is, who´s most at risk, and are there answers as to why the suicide rates are going up?
Madigan: Well, I´d like to give you a magic pill or something, but there´s not. I mean, suicide´s a result of a whole host of reasons, but I think the rates are rising right now the highest among my age group -- white men, 50 years of age and older -- but it´s also rising among people 10 to 25. So, I mean, that´s both ends of the spectrum, and it´s critically important. Again, I think that people now talk to their family members and loved ones about, if you´re living with depression or any kind of mental illness, there´s help out there, and please get it.
Hyland: There´s so much stigma attached to this, though. How we do get the conversation started, John, about suicide and suicide prevention?
Madigan: Real simple. My good friend Patrick Kennedy talks about the fact that all of us need a yearly check up from the neck up. So even when we take our kids to get their vaccinations for preschool or grade school, that pediatrician ought to ask, "Sheila, how´s your son Johnny doing? Is he making friends? Is he social? Anything that we need to talk about?" And, again, I think, again, it´s no different than heart disease or diabetes. We need to make it a regular part of the conversation.
Hyland: And, John, what are the warning signs to look for?
Madigan: There are several, but I think the most obvious one´s withdrawal, people who get angry who normally don´t get angry, maybe drinking more, taking more medications, isolating themselves, giving away prized property.
Hyland: We talked earlier about you being an advocate for suicide prevention. What is the foundation doing toward that end, toward ending suicide?
Madigan: Well, that´s a great question. We have one program. It´s called Project 2025, and our goal is to reduce suicide 20 percent by 2025, and we´re focusing on 4 areas. Two of them are related to the medical field in the emergency room and the primary-care space, third is in prisons, and the fourth is in educating gun-owning families about the dangers of having guns in the home. We´re not suggesting that guns be removed permanently, but we´re suggesting, much like if you have a family member with an alcohol issue, they would take the car keys away. If you have a son with depression and you have guns in the home, what´s your family´s plan to temporarily perhaps separate the weapon from the ammunition, lock it up, or whatever?
Hyland: And it´s important to get the message across that there is hope and there is help available.
Madigan: Absolutely. Suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death in this country. And, again, there´s help out there. I mean, one of the pieces of legislation I´m working on right now that Congress recently passed legislation that´s gonna look into the possibility of converting the 1-800-273-TALK line that´s on your listeners´ screen right now to a three-digit number so it´s easy to remember. -
Hyland: Like 911, for instance. -
Madigan: Exactly, exactly. And then we´re gonna put more funding into the crisis line so there´s 24/7 help available in all 50 states apple-to-apple.
Hyland: All right. John Madigan, we wish you the best with everything that you are doing toward suicide prevention and working toward that three-digit number, as well.
Madigan: Well, thanks for having us. Thank you.
Hyland: And thank you for joining us. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Sheila Hyland.
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