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Phoebe Putney places focus on suicide prevention

Garnie Mitchell, manager of the employee assistance program at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, presents a lecture on suicide prevention at Phoebe HealthWorks Tuesday.

Garnie Mitchell, manager of the employee assistance program at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, presents a lecture on suicide prevention at Phoebe HealthWorks Tuesday.

ALBANY, Ga. — On the heels of National Suicide Prevention Week, a group of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital employees recently had the opportunity to learn how to help combat the problem at home.

As part of the hospital’s monthly luncheon program, Garnie Mitchell, manager of the employee assistance program for the Phoebe Behavioral Health Center, recently spoke about the issue of suicide and how to prevent it.

“It’s a major health concern,” Mitchell said. “It’s critical we come together to prevent this crisis.”

The frequency of suicide is 11 cases per 100,000 in the general population, Mitchell said. It is the second leading cause of death for American college-age students, and is listed as the third leading cause of death among those 15-24 years of age.

It a problem that impacts all populations, with 14.3 of every 100,000 people aged 65 and older having died by suicide in 2007. Male veterans have double the suicide rate of civilians, and it is the 11th leading cause of death for all Georgians.

In general, suicide rates increase with age, and firearms are currently the most utilized method of suicide by most groups.

One of the most critical steps in combating the problem is talking about it and allowing family members of those who have taken their own lives to overcome the stigma that is attached to suicide.

“People can take positive steps to make things better,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell added that more than half of those showing the warning signs are not seeking help for themselves, making it all the more important for family members to watch out for certain risk factors.

Those risk factors generally include a recent loss or stressful life event, social isolation and loneliness, history of trauma or abuse, a mood disorder or alcohol dependence, previous suicide attempts, and terminal illness or chronic pain.

For teenagers specifically, the signs to watch for include depression, childhood abuse, a recent traumatic event, a hostile school or social environment, talking or writing about death, rage or uncontrolled anger, withdrawal from family and friends, seeing no sense of purpose in life, decline in quality of schoolwork and dramatic mood changes.

“It will often be a school assignment in which a teen will write about death,” Mitchell said. “That’s a sign to the teacher to get help.”

If the situation arises, the first thing experts advise is to speak up. Phrases such as “I have been feeling concerned about you lately” and “Recently, I have noticed some difference in you and wondered how you are doing” are what is recommended when approaching someone who might be troubled.

Then, respond quickly in a manner that will help assess the immediate suicide risk. Find out if they have a plan, if they have what they need to carry out their plan and when they intend to do it.

“You are asking them direct things,” Mitchell said. “Then, you offer help and support.

“You cannot make a person not do something they want to do, but you can take them for help.”

Mitchell also stressed being non-judgmental and supportive in the long haul.

Deborah Akridge, a nurse for the behavior health unit at Phoebe, learned some new things from the presentation.

“I was shocked to see how high the teen stats were,” she said. “The veterans also need more attention.

“We need to raise awareness. There is not as much awareness as there should be.”