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Medical students encouraged to learn signs of suicide

Dr. and Ms. Schreck advocate for Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program

By Richard Heck

Sometimes listening can be the best medicine.

During a noon lecture Dec. 9, OU-COM students learned about the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program. The lecture, sponsored by the Student Government Association, was presented by Edward Schreck, D.O., assistant professor of family medicine, and his wife, Mary.

The most important thing to remember when encountering a suicidal individual is to listen, Schreck said. “People in crisis need to talk to relieve their isolation.”

The Schrecks are deeply and painfully familiar with the topic. Twelve years ago, their 22-year-old son committed suicide. “It was devastating to our family,” Schreck told the students as he related how a deputy sheriff arrived at their home to break the news.

Suicide kills more people each year—more than 32,000 in the United States alone—than AIDS, birth defects, chronic lung disease or stroke. It is the third-leading cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds and the fastest growing cause of death among children aged 10 to 14.

During the past few months, two Ohio University students and one Logan High School student committed suicide, Mary Schreck noted. “It hits everybody across the board,” she said, pointing out that one in five people consider ending their own lives at some point, and one in 10 will make at least one suicide attempt.

Yellow Ribbon is a community-based program that works with local organizations and individuals to empower both youths and adults with strategies for suicide prevention. The initiative was begun in 1994 by the parents of Mike Emme, a Colorado teen who killed himself, according to the Yellow Ribbon web site. Gathering to discuss the tragedy of losing Mike, his friends asked Emme’s mother what they could do. “Don’t attempt suicide,” she said. “Even if you are at this point of despair, please ask for help.”

Mary Schreck noted that talking about suicide is often difficult for people. “But we need to talk about it out in the open and talk about prevention,” she said. A member and former president of the Advocates for the Ohio Osteopathic Association, Mary and her husband lead efforts to promote the Yellow Ribbon Project and other suicide prevention efforts in the osteopathic medical profession.

Among many other initiatives, the Yellow Ribbon Program distributes yellow cards to teenagers who want to help prevent their peers from considering suicide, Mary Schreck said. Along with the simple phrase, “It’s ok to ask 4 help,” the cards include a list of suicide warning signs and toll-free telephone numbers for suicide prevention hotlines.

“Teens will turn to their peers before someone else, but you can be a link to get them to someone else,” Mary Schreck said. “This is a program that anybody can participate in.”

While Yellow Ribbon is aimed at teenagers, suicide prevention methods can be applied to any demographic. Schreck said. Suicide rates for men increase with age, most significantly after the age of 65, at which point the suicide rate for men rises to seven times that of females in the same age group.

An estimated 750,000 people of all ages, races and socioeconomic groups attempt suicide each year. Learning about the causes, warning signs and risk factors for suicide, as well as methods for its prevention and intervention will improve the quality of care physicians can offer.

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Last updated: 01/28/2016