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OUR VIEW: Preventability makes suicide doubly tragic

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Keep in mind that suicide, the grimmest of reapers, abruptly and prematurely ends more than a million lives a year worldwide, including about 1,700 throughout America and more than 100 in South Dakota. To put those statistics in perspective: They exceed all the deaths caused each year by global armed conflicts, terrorism, and natural disasters such as earthquakes, mudslides and tsunamis.

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But instead of 100,000 people dying simultaneously in a tsunami or ethnic cleansing, for example -- such concentrations of horror sharply and quickly focuses world attention and relief resources -- suicides are very widely but thinly distributed everywhere, usually falling well under the media radar. So when suicides happen, they happen quietly, in a sense, and only relatively few people are strongly affected, many of those emotionally hobbled by grief and guilt and stigma.

The problem is that these most tragic of events happen quietly in so many places seemingly so far away that, for most of us, the once-bright lights blink out almost invisibly. And effective solutions remain out of reach for many who are just contemplating the unthinkable and still have time to reconsider, if only they knew there were options.

And there are excellent options. Front-line anti-depressant drugs and well-trained, compassionate counselors have worked miracles, saving countless lives from the final ravages of hopelessness. But professionals in the mental-health field continue to battle the scourge of stigma still associated with psychiatric suffering. That stigma keeps life-saving and life-enhancing therapies effectively quarantined from the people who need them most.

So, the Mitchell Area Suicide Prevention Task Force's targeted activities during the Sept. 8-14 National Suicide Prevention Week are necessary and welcome. The purpose of the Task Force's efforts is to raise awareness -- from the rooftops -- about a problem many of us would rather not think about. But awareness is essential to effectiveness in defeating this most personal of enemies. Because, to be sure, that enemy's ally often is prejudice. Which is us.

For us South Dakotans, this should be very personal. According to the Task Force, our state's suicide rate is the ninth highest in the country among all age groups, and seventh highest for young people 15 to 24 -- almost double the national rate for that vulnerable group. Sad isn't the word for it.

So, it behooves us all to learn about the precursor signs of suicide -- depression is the most common harbinger -- and learn to recognize them in our friends and loved ones, and offer practical support and encouragement to seek therapy when it will do the most good.

Nothing is hopeless. What makes suicide doubly tragic is that it's preventable.

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