DEAR READERS: The news is filled with murder rate statistics and efforts to fight violent crime, yet most people don’t realize there are more than double the suicide deaths in this country compared to homicides. Suicide is called the “silent” epidemic for this reason.

According to 2007 statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 34,000 suicide deaths occur per year. That’s an average of

95 Americans taking their life each day. Suicide is the third-leading killer of our teens and the second- leading killer in our colleges. For every suicide death there are 11 attempts.

Those who attempt suicide are experiencing such utter hopelessness that they believe there is no other solution to end their pain. Some suicides are planned, others are impulsive. The Jason Foundation indicates that approximately 40 percent of youth suicides have a precipitating event, such as death of a loved one, loss of a valued relationship, parental divorce or sexual abuse.

In virtually every failed suicide, the victim (who is now getting help), is utterly grateful to be alive. With early intervention, most at-risk youth are stabilized in fewer than 10 therapy sessions.

As we saw in last week’s column, we can’t always spot or prevent suicide. That said, four out of five suicides are signaled ahead. Learning the risk factors, warning signs, and getting the person immediate professional help, can and does save lives.

— Lauren

Suicide warning signs

■ Deepening depression

■ Social withdrawal

■ Statements about feeling worthless or hopeless

■ Changes in sleeping, eating

■ Excessive partying or drug use

■ Intolerance for emotional depth

■ Out-of-character or risky behavior

■ Talking, writing, drawing about death or suicide

■ Dropping loved activities

■ Unexpectedly contacting friends or relatives

■ Giving away possessions

■ Saying goodbye

■ Having a suicide plan

People most at risk have

■ Major depression

■ Bipolar or other mental disorders

■ Eating disorders

■ Alcohol or drug dependence

■ Trauma or loss (breakup, divorce, death, personal failure, no-win challenge)

■ Sexual-orientation issues

■ Perfectionist personalities

■ History of cutting themselves

■ Issues of neglect, abuse, bullying

■ Chronic pain

■ Access to firearms

■ Family history or close exposure to suicide

■ Previous suicide attempts

What to do

■ A deadly misperception is that talking about suicide will “plant the seed.” It won’t. Be gentle, yet direct: “I’m worried. I’m seeing A, B and C (name the warning signs and risk factors). Are you considering suicide?”

■ If their answer contradicts body language, keep probing. No matter what they answer, if they have warning signs, tell a responsible adult.

■ If they admit to suicidal feelings, take them seriously. Denying their feelings makes things worse. Be caring and listen, but don’t “play” therapist.

■ Ask about a suicide plan: “Have you thought about how you would do it?” If they reveal a plan, DO NOT keep their secret. Tell an adult ASAP.

■ If they backtrack with, “But I’m fine, I would never do that,” or text you, “I’m better now,” DO NOT BELIEVE IT. Tell an adult.

■ If someone is actually attempting suicide, stay with them. You are their lifeline. Immediately call 911 or 1-800-SUICIDE.

Preventive measures

■ Give kids demonstrable love and affection every day.

■ Set a strong family expectation that suicide is not acceptable behavior.

■ Ensure that no problem is too big to solve and that you are there for them always.

Straight Talk is a nonprofit that tackles youth’s toughest issues with youth’s wisest advice. Go deeper in today’s conversation or ask a question by visiting or writing P.O. Box 1974, Sebastopol 95473.