New thinking on suicide prevention

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June 17, 2018 - 11:00 PM

Insight Kansas

Nearly 45,000 Americans die by suicide each year — an increase of nearly 25 percent since 1999. No wonder the Center for Disease Control and Prevention calls it a public health crisis. The problem is even worse in Kansas: up 45 percent in the same time frame. The issue is in today’s headlines due to recent celebrity deaths, including fashion designer Kate Spade, who was from Kansas City.

A recent op-ed by Wichita attorney Blake Shuart exemplifies the traditional approach: suggesting outreach to those at risk, along with increased attention to depression screening and treatment. Others remind readers of the 24-hour suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255. These are all good, but defining suicide in terms of public health offers still more. Social science shows us that many suicides are preventable, and the means are within reach.

Recent research reminds us just how susceptible we humans are to our environments. We readily, unconsciously adapt our behavior to even the smallest change. This is why nutritionists now eschew dieting, instead recommending environmental changes like shrinking the size of dinner plates, putting food in smaller packages, and not keeping junk food on the counter. Urban planners build narrower roads through neighborhoods, incorporating traffic circles and on-street parking. Drivers respond with slower speeds, perhaps without even realizing it. We political scientists embrace same-day voter registration and voting by mail to boost turnout.

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