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Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: Offering Hope to Keep People Alive

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September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in Arkansas and across the nation. Too many families are shattered by this painful act, and we all need to work together to make suicides a less frequent end to life. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of all deaths in the United States. It is estimated that nearly five million Americans have lost a loved one to suicide. In Arkansas, alone, 400 suicides took place last year, ranking the State 15th nationwide. It’s important to know which groups of people are at most risk. While the suicide rate remains highest for adults 75 years of age and older, our veterans are also at an increased risk, and the suicide rate for those aged 15 to 24 has more than doubled since the 1950s. In fact, among Arkansans ages 15 to 24, suicide is the second-leading cause of death.

While mental-health disorders can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income, they continue to be shrouded in stigma and societal prejudice. This stigma too often works against suicide-prevention efforts by discouraging those at the highest risk from seeking life-saving help. We have to find ways to help our friends, families, colleagues, and fellow human beings realize that there are other options.

The Arkansas National Guard has been a leader in marshaling personnel at all levels to look for signs of potential suicide risk and to break down that stigma. This year, their theme for the month is “Shoulder to Shoulder, Standing Ready and Resilient.” It is a concept that reaches beyond the military; that works to reach all those at risk for suicide to let them know that we support them, and it is okay to ask for help.

This past February, a Statewide Suicide Prevention Initiative was formed by 37 agencies, organizations, foundations and professionals. In 2010, the Arkansas Suicide Prevention Network was founded by my office, in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office, the Arkansas National Guard, the Arkansas Crisis Center and the Division of Behavioral Health, which coordinates the initiative.

We hope that, through education and training, the public’s awareness of suicide will be increased so that more and more persons will hear and recognize the warning signs of suicide and be ready to respond to desperate young people and people of any age.

Suicide and mental-health issues are among our state’s, and our nation’s, most pressing public-health problems. We have to become better able to recognize suicidal behavior and know the steps to take to get the right help to those we know and love. No single suicide-prevention program is appropriate for everyone, so we must continue to identify those who lack the available help they need to enjoy better mental health and better lives for themselves.

If someone you know needs help, please connect them with the resources available in our state. Each one of us may someday play a vital role in preventing a suicide, even though we may never realize that our actions helped prevent an irreversible and final action. How we collectively respond to this public-health issue can change lives, and how we act individually can potentially save those lives, one at a time.