SIKESTON -- Despite the fact it's a leading cause of death in Missouri, suicide is also one of the least talked about causes of death.
A new statewide plan aimed at reducing suicides and suicide attempts by increasing awareness of warning signs and implementing prevention programs into communities will be introduced in the area this week.
"I think having a prevention plan is very important because it's a leading cause of death and very little has been done about it -- and a lot has been done about other leading causes of death such as cancer and accidents," Dr. Joseph Parks, medical director for the Missouri Department of Mental Health in Jefferson City, pointed out.
Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death for adults in Missouri and the third leading cause of death in children ages 15-24.
Part of suicide prevention is public awareness, said Parks.
"It's something very little attention has been given to," Parks said about suicide. "And, usually, when we have something that's neglected, and we put a little effort in it, you will see some improvements."
Following the announcement by the Surgeon General in 1999 that suicide is a worldwide public health problem and is preventable, states were assigned the task of writing into legislation a plan to prevent suicide and suicide attempts.
In 2003, Missouri passed its legislation mandating the development of a statewide suicide prevention plan. A 10-person panel for Missouri was created to address suicide as a public health issue and draft a plan.
The draft, which is called the Missouri Suicide Prevention Plan: A Collaborative Effort, includes a requirement to hold town hall meetings throughout the state.
On Monday, a town hall meeting open to the public will be from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Poplar Bluff and from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Bootheel Counseling Services in Sikeston.
The purpose of the town hall meetings is to receive feedback from all communities to see if the plan sounds reasonable and is fitting for their community, Parks said. They also want to know which things are higher and lower priorities, he said.
"We're hoping in the communities we do these public hearings in people will get excited and take part in a prevention program," Parks said.
Programs will fit the needs of the community since there are several different things can be attributed to suicide such as drug and alcohol abuse or medical illnesses, Parks said. According to the plan, the "public health approach focuses on identifying patterns of suicide and suicidal behavior throughout a group of populations."
One of the risk factors of suicide is not having a social network, Parks said. Other risk factors include alcohol or substance abuse disorders, mental disorders, previous suicide attempt, family history of suicide, a sense of isolation and relational or financial loss.
The biggest myth about suicide is if you ask somebody if they're thinking about killing themselves, it will give them the idea to do it, but that isn't true, Park said.
"All they have to say is 'I can tell you're really down and are you thinking about hurting yourself?'" Parks said. "And most people will say they never thought of doing it, but just asking about it is enough."
Over 700 lives are lost each year to suicide in Missouri with another 4,000 receiving emergency care after attempting to take their lives.
"Members of the public are not aware of the large numbers of completed or attempted suicides there are each year," noted Debi Oliver, a crisis counselor at Bootheel Counseling Services in Sikeston and director of Survivors of Suicide for Southeast Missouri.
Parks also said 50 percent more people die of suicide than homicide in Missouri.
"Most people either know someone or know of someone who's killed themselves. When I go to meetings and ask this question about 90 to 95 percent raise their hands," Parks said.
Bootheel Counseling Services is sponsoring the town hall meetings in Sikeston and Poplar Bluff, along with the Family Counseling Center Inc., Butler County Reserve, Three Rivers Regional Medical Center, Poplar Bluff Schools and Probation and Parole, District 14.
"Each of us can make a difference, and if you're worried, you should ask," Parks said. "And if you're worried about getting embarrassed, the embarrassment won't feel near as bad as if you don't say anything and someone completes suicide."
A townhall meeting is also planned at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Glenn Auditorium at Southeast Missouri State's Dempster Hall in Cape Girardeau. Anyone who is attending the town hall meeting is encouraged to bring a copy of the draft with them. Copies can be accessed online at www.dmh.mo.gov/cps/suicide/resources.htm. A proposed draft of the plan is due to the state legislature by Dec. 31.