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Opioid abuse has been declared a state of emergency in South Carolina. The time is now to put an equal focus on suicide.

During 2018, suicide got a high profile with the deaths of celebrities such as Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain and Ellie Soutter. But suicide is not unique to the famous.

Suicide is such a problem that it is estimated that about 44,965 Americans take their lives each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is one death by suicide every 12 minutes. That’s five lives lost every hour.

The number of deaths by suicide is more than all the annual deaths from terrorism across the world combined. In fact, there are twice as many suicides every year as there are homicides. And more than 500,000 people are treated in U.S. emergency rooms each year for injuries related to self-harm.

The rates of most other causes of death are decreasing, but the suicide rate is increasing. CDC statistics show the rate of suicide has risen more than 25 percent over the last two decades.

In South Carolina, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10-35. According to the June 2018 edition of Vital Signs, a CDC publication, South Carolina’s suicide rate has increased by 39 percent since 1999.

The S.C. Department of Mental Health is addressing the issue, with a statewide alliance releasing a revitalized strategic plan crafted to combat the prevalence of suicide among South Carolinians,

Headed by DMH Director John H. Magill, the S.C. Suicide Prevention Coalition is a collection of state leaders, stakeholders, supporters and experts in medical and mental health fields who collaborated for two years to create the South Carolina Strategy for Suicide Prevention.

“The work of the coalition is to support this alarming public health issue. The State of South Carolina has to focus on suicide prevention and bring awareness safety and saving lives," Magill said.

The new plan contains detailed instructions for how anyone can help prevent suicide on individual, interpersonal, communal and societal levels, including outlines for improved identification, assessment and continued care within medical, academic, spiritual and social environments.

Replacing a 2010 strategy, the new plan aims to develop broad-based support for suicide prevention, reduce stigma, advocate for change in policies and practices, and raise awareness about suicide — a preventable death.

According to Magill, the plan will be adjusted and expanded as newer, innovative research surfaces about suicide prevention, intervention and postvention.

DMH is the right agency to take the lead in suicide prevention, as its primary mission is to support the recovery of people with mental illnesses. Equally as important is ending the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Everyone can play a role. As Reshmi Saranga M.D., a psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry, states about mental illness and mental health: "We can provide hope and support by starting a conversation. Reach out to help normalize the topic. Don’t hesitate to seek treatment for mental illnesses. Someone suffering from diabetes wouldn’t hesitate to seek help for their physical condition. The same normalization needs to be visible in the mental health community."

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