Originally Published: August 16, 2008 9:03 p.m.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans believe that suicide is preventable, yet only 27 percent feel very confident that they could help a loved one who is suicidal, according to a public opinion poll by Screening for Mental Health, Inc., a nonprofit provider of mental health screening programs.
"The results of this survey shed light on the fact that most people don't know how to recognize the warning signs of suicide, where to turn for assistance, or how to help someone who may be at risk," said Douglas G. Jacobs, M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and founder of Screening for Mental Health, Inc.
"Suicide is a fatal response to a treatable and reversible condition - that condition most often being depression."
In a telephone poll that surveyed 1,000 individuals nationwide, the goal was to evaluate beliefs and attitudes of particular populations about mental health, depression and suicide. According to the Suicide Prevention Action Network, 90 percent of people who die by suicide have depression or another treatable mental illness or substance abuse disorder.
Other findings from the poll included:
Only 19 percent of Americans are aware that most suicides are a result of mental illness, and nearly as many (18 percent) think most suicides are reasonable reactions to stressful events.
86 percent think depression is treatable.
Nearly half of Americans (46 percent) know someone who has suffered from depression or another mental illness.
Those over 65 are the least likely to say they know anyone who has suffered from depression (36 percent), the least likely to think suicide is preventable (64 percent) and the least confident that they would know what to do if a friend or family member was suicidal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the elderly comprise 12.6 percent of the population, yet account for 16 percent of suicides.
"While most de-pressed people are not suicidal, most suicidal people have depression or a related treatable mental health condition," Jacobs said.