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Cabinet secretaries express support for suicide prevention efforts

By Dave Ranney | August 23, 2013

Kansas officials on Friday vowed to bolster support for suicide prevention and awareness efforts going on throughout the state.

Suicide, they said, should be viewed as a public health issue that warrants open discussion.

“The impact of suicide on survivors such as spouses, parents, children, family, friends, and co-workers is gravely significant, both immediately and over the long term,” said Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services Secretary Shawn Sullivan, addressing a forum coordinated by KDADS, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence.

“Suicide is a public health issue, and it is largely preventable,” Sullivan said.

Dr. Robert Moser, former secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

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About 30 people — a mix of state officials, advocates, and parents whose children had died by suicide — attended the two-hour session. KDHE Secretary Dr. Robert Moser also addressed the gathering.

“Too many Kansans die by suicide each year — our sons, daughters, moms, dads, friends, people we used to sit next to at church, co-workers, people we saw around town,” said Marcia Epstein, program director at Headquarters Counseling Center.

According to data on the KDHE website, Kansas recorded 384 suicides in 2011.

“The impact of suicide is huge, confusing and painful,” Epstein said. “And although suicide is never someone else's fault, those left behind often feel so guilty.”

Epstein encouraged advocates, anyone who’s contemplating suicide, or anyone who might suspect that another person in considering suicide, to call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, or visit the Kansas Suicide Prevention Coalition’s website.

Organizations interested in hosting presentations on suicide awareness and prevention were encouraged to Chris Maxwell at

Epstein praised Sullivan and Moser for their interest in suicide prevention. “The fact that the secretaries cleared that much time on their calendars to be a part of this shows a commitment that’s exactly what we need right now,” she said.

In Kansas, four counties have started suicide prevention coalitions: Harvey, Johnson, Sedgwick, and Shawnee. Also, there’s a Great Bend-based prevention task force active in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush, and Stafford counties.

The numbers of suicides in Kansas since 2001:

  • 2001 — 297
  • 2002 — 346
  • 2003 — 344
  • 2004 — 368
  • 2005 — 357
  • 2006 — 377
  • 2007 — 380
  • 2008 — 350
  • 2009 — 376
  • 2010 — 408
  • 2011 — 384

Nationally, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death; for young adults ages 15 to 24, it’s the third leading cause.

Also on Friday, Gov. Sam Brownback signed a proclamation designating Sept. 8-14 as Suicide Prevention Week in Kansas.

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