Wednesday, December 26, 2007

VA Begins New Suicide Prevention Program

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New Suicide Prevention Program within the VA
By Derek Meurer, The Daily Courier

Tuesday, December 25, 2007 "The biggest myth about suicide is that people should not talk about it," according to Ali Cassidy.
"People think that talking about suicide with someone will 'put the idea in their head,' and that's just not true," said Cassidy, the Mental Health Clinic Suicide Prevention Coordinator working at the Bob Stump VA Medical Center. "People who are dealing with suicidal thoughts are begging for someone to notice. We make sure there's always someone available to talk to who is knowledgeable, and who will listen."Cassidy, a former employee of the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, is heading up the local effort to enhance suicide prevention measures for veterans as part of a nationwide cooperative effort of VA hospitals

Veterans are a special risk group for suicide," said Cassidy. "There's a number of reasons for that, but mainly due to the experience of trauma in battle, post traumatic stress disorder and their familiarity with guns. That makes it more likely if they attempt a suicide, it'll likely be fatal."

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (1-800-273-8255), a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention hotline, now has a prompt of, "if you are a U.S. military veteran ... please press 1 now." The call will then route to Canandaigua, N.Y., where a staff of specially trained suicide counselors wait to help veterans through their time of crisis.

"It does require some special knowledge of what a veteran goes through to counsel a veteran, and they have that knowledge," said Cassidy. "Just as important, it immediately enters them into the VA Medical System, if they weren't already, and cross references their location to find the closest appropriate facilities to help them." (1-800-273-TALK)-8255

The Department of Veterans Affairs has established several new programs to combat the
threat of suicide among veterans. Cassidy estimates more than 100 life-saving emergency interventions, "where they were literally going to do immediate harm to themselves," since the beginning of the suicide prevention effort less than a year ago.

"Just last week I got a call from the suicide hotline about an Iraqi war veteran in California who was suicidal," said Cassidy. "I spoke with the young man for over an hour. He had returned from active duty and had a cascade of problems not unusual for a young man returning from war; numerous personal losses.

"With the help of the new information networking system, VA personnel were able to enter the veteran into the VA medical system and arrange for emergency care through a local community hospital.

"He was later transferred to a hospital in Phoenix, where I saw him at the end of the week," said Cassidy. "He looked at me and said, ''I was really going to kill myself.'' I thought, thank God for that hotline. It would have been so needless, such a waste if he'd taken his life. He was just a kid.

"In addition to the veteran-specific hotline and the information network, the suicide prevention program involves educating VA hospital staff and the Prescott community in how to look for the signs of suicide and what measures to take to prevent it.

"There are definite, tangible signs to look for, with suicide. It's another myth that suicide happens without warning," said Cassidy. "When trained to look for the signs, you can intervene and avoid a senseless death. Suicide is the permanent solution to a temporary problem. More people die every year by suicide than by HIV, or murder, things that are always on people's minds. People need to take notice. It's the only way we can make this change.

"The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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