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Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

Listen to Smart Talk live online from 9-10 a.m. weekdays and at 7 p.m. (Repeat of 9 a.m. program)

Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Suicide and mental illness

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Aug 13, 2014 2:16 PM

What to look for on Smart Talk Thursday, August 14, 2014:

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The tragic death of comedian and actor Robin Williams has brought much attention to suicide and mental illness.

With almost 37,000 people dying by suicide each year, it is the tenth leading cause of death in the country.

As a man over the age of 45, Williams also is part of the largest category of suicide victims.

Additionally, research findings point out that mental disorders and/or substance abuse have been found in 90% of deaths by suicide. However, professionals say if these illnesses are recognized and treated properly, suicide and its effects on loved ones can be prevented.

On Thursday’s Smart Talk, we'll talk about depression and other leading contributors to suicide, look at the possible warning signs of suicide, and discuss how to prevent or get help if someone is considering ending their life.

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Dr. Dale Adair, Govan Martin, and Rebecca May-Cole

Joining us in the Smart Talk studio are Dr. Dale Adair, a psychiatrist, who serves as the Chief Medical Officer for the state mental hospital system and the Co-Chairs of the PA Adult/Older Adult Suicide Prevention Coalition, Govan Martin and Rebecca May-Cole, who will provide insight about this public health problem and the resources available.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or

To learn more go to PA Adult/Older Adult Suicide Prevention Coalition's website:

Or for younger people

 Warning Signs of Suicide

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

What To Do

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free, 24/7 service that can provide suicidal persons or those around them with support, information and local resources
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional


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  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-14 08:28

    April emails:

    My ex committed suicide. And the signs were there for years. Not months, weeks or days.
    Then one day he finally did it, 12 years after me thinking something was wrong. No getting things in order or giving things away.
    He was dependent on alcohol, angry and depressed for all of those years. There was good and bad times, more bad! Had lots of childhood trauma. I believe he had Asperger’s syndrome, a social and emotional developmental disorder. He was told to buck up and man up.
    Society doesn’t allow for men especially to ask for help. To feel its okay. His main issue is he didn’t want to talk but medicince doesn’t cure mental illness.
    Now I am fearful, my son has an arrow pointing to him that he is 50% more likely to commit suicide. Due to his father doing so. The mental illness in the family, my son’s Asperger’s syndrome, and very high anxiety just like his father. I wasn’t going to tell him till he is older (he is 7), now it almost doesn’t matter if I ever do the risk is there in his blood.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-14 08:37

    April emails:

    How do I tell my children and when do I tell my children that their father committed suicide? How do I handle that? What do I say?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-14 08:45

    Mary emails:

    Mental illness is still considered to be different than "physical" illness. Even with all the publicity about mental illness, there is still a stigma attached to it.

    Some of us who have severe clinical depression can hide it really well. I was hospitalized in 1980 and neither my boyfriend nor my best friend knew anything was wrong. I still can cover it really well. I have been treated twice since then as a "day hospital" patient.

    One of the warning signs is something that many people might not connect to clinical depression is irritability and anger. These are signs I now key into to be aware if there is too much stress in my life.

    Unless you have been there, you can't understand the intense pain and hopelessness that envelopes a person in depression.

    William Styron gave it the best description in the title of his book about his struggles, "Darkness Visible."

    Even with all of the education and media coverage, most people do not understand depression. People are afraid of it, just like when I was a kid people were afraid of cancer and wouldn't even talk about it. It is almost like they are afraid it will rub off on them.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-14 08:47

    Karen emails:

    Good morning.

    Robin Williams' suicide begs the question of "are we paying enough attention to mental health issues?" It was just a year ago (August 17) when a neighbor of mine committed suicide. Why are mental health issues so easily dismissed and why are people not getting the help they need. I think there are a few things at play here.

    First is the stigma that mental health problems carries (as you have discussed). Mental illness is not a choice any more than diabetes or heart disease. Mental health issues are a result of a long term process of how people interpret and deal with pain. While a healthy person has learned to cope with pain (physical and emotional), and learned to process and accept pain, a person with mental health issues has not been learned acceptable tools to do that.

    Second, many people are hesitant to get help because mental health issues are not very well covered by insurance. Many psychiatrists and psychologists do not work with insurances and many insurances only have limited coverage. I think the reluctance in good coverage for mental health issues is that mental health is not an exact science. There are no lab tests or scans that can diagnose suicide.

    Third, is that recovery is time consuming and IS LONG TERM. Treatment in a severely at risk patient may involve/need inpatient services, but most mental health patients are treated on an outpatient business. It is up to the patient to follow through with care, but that begs the question of "are they capable" and also "can they do this while maintaining daily life?". We give people time off if they break a leg, but I think we are reluctant to "give people a break" when they are facing mental health issues.

    Fourth, our society demands that we need to be OK on a daily basis. How many time do we greet each other with "how are you?" but we are not willing to take the time to listen to people. With people less involved in supportive communities (family, church, etc) I predict that this issue will only increase in the future.

    The ways I think we can help are:

    Push for better coverage for mental health issues among insurances.

    Understand that if you engage with someone who you think is mentally unstable, you can help them best by caring. The best way to do that is to help them get the help they need. Most of us are not qualified to engage them where they need help, but you are qualified to encourage them to go to counseling and offer to go with them. Tell them that you are going to follow up with them and then make sure you do.

    I have many more thoughts on this, but time is limited.

    Thanks for listening.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-14 08:50

    Joanne emails:

    My cousin’s son committed suicide this year. He was in his late 20s. Successful dentist, had a one year old, a wonderful wife and started to study to become an oral surgeon. This news blew the whole family away.

    I will be seeing my cousin in the coming weeks during a family gathering. How does one approach the subject when you know they are grieving?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-14 08:51

    April emails:

    what about when they have no insurance, then they don’t qualify for assistance? They are left to find the cash to pay for even an evaluation. They cant and they sink deeper due to no help and feeling more like a loser per say for not being able to help themselves

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-14 09:00

    Cathy emails:

    As long as the term "mental" illness is used there will always be a stigma associated with the diseases which are usually caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.
    Do we say a person with Diabetes has an endocrine disorder? Or a person who has Multiple Sclerosis has an autoimmune disorder?

    Perhaps we should just day that Robin Williams had Depression.