In Brief

On Oct. 10, the World Federation for Mental Health sponsored its annual World Mental Health Day with the 2006 theme, "Building Awareness--Reducing Risk: Mental Illness and Suicide." Mental health organizations that are members of the federation--devoted to public mental health education--held media awareness campaigns, races, rallies and other such activities, including a symposium on suicide and mental illness at the United Nations.

"The World Federation for Mental Health contributes a global perspective on mental health promotion and public information, and their global network allows them to mount systematic campaigns to raise awareness," says Merry Bullock, PhD, senior director of APA's Office for International Affairs. "APA believes that it's important for psychology to be a participant in these efforts."

Federation member APA and various mental health organizations, including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, Suicide Prevention Action Network USA, and the National Mental Health Association co-sponsored a Washington, D.C., forum at the Pan American Health Organization. The event featured a panel presentation, "Perspectives on Mental Illness and Suicide," which included speakers Jorge Rodriguez, MD, chief of the Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation Unit at the Pan American Health Organization, Jane Pearson, PhD, acting deputy director of the Division of Services and Intervention Research at the National Institute of Mental Health, and Jerry Reed, executive director of the Suicide Prevention Action Network. The federation prepares materials for member and affiliated organizations' local observances of the annual event. This year's materials included these key points:

  • Mental illness is a major risk factor for suicide. The World Health Organization estimates that 90 percent of all suicide victims have some kind of mental health condition--often depression or substance abuse.

  • Treatment of mental illnesses can reduce suicide risk. Suicidal tendencies can be treated through therapy and medication. It is also important for providers to be aware of when people with mental illnesses are at greater risk--for instance, some research indicates that individuals with schizophrenia are at greatest risk early in the course of their disease. Early intervention and effective management appear to reduce their risk over time.

  • Dangerous myths and misperceptions about suicide need to be dispelled through education. Common beliefs such as, "People who talk about suicide won't really do it," "If a person is determined to kill him- or herself, nothing can stop him or her," and "Talking about suicide may give someone the idea," are inaccurate and can be deadly.

  • Easy access to suicide-intervention programs is essential. Communities should work toward reducing stigma and increasing public awareness of such resources as suicide-prevention centers and phone lines, community mental health centers and family and caregiver support programs.

--L. Meyers