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SUICIDE PREVENTION

SHARYL ATTKISSON: Over the years, government health officials have launched campaigns to prevent deadly conditions ranging from AIDS to lung cancer. Recently, Surgeon General David Satcher took aim at a new target: suicide, the nation's eighth leading cause of death.

SURGEON GENERAL DAVID SATCHER: If we apply the existing knowledge, we can significantly lower the rate of suicide in this country.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: On hand for the unveiling of a national action plan for suicide prevention, a husband and wife from Georgia, who got the ball rolling.

JERRY WEYRAUCH: We must guarantee that these goals and objectives delivered here today do not become a federal document on the shelf.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: Andrew Holtz has the story of how private tragedy spurred this couple to public action.

ANDREW HOLTZ: On a summer evening 14 years ago, the telephone rang at the home of Jerry and Elsie Weyrauch. A police officer asked if they had a daughter named Terri.

ELSIE WEYRAUCH: And I said yes, she's our daughter, why? Are you looking for her? And he said no, no, we've found her, we're looking for her husband, and I said why are you looking for her husband? And he said, because she killed herself.

ANDREW HOLTZ: Terri Weyrauch was the oldest of Jerry and Elsie's five children.

ELSIE WEYRAUCH: It was why, the why did she do this?

ANDREW HOLTZ: Terri had always done well...excelling in college and graduating from Duke University Medical School. Terri's first signature as a physician is just above those of her brother and sister-in-law... who followed her successful path into medicine.

ELSIE WEYRAUCH: Our physician daughter, our daughter who was in the business of helping relieve pain, had killed herself. I could not believe it.

ANDREW HOLTZ: Even though Elsie worked as a psychiatric nurse... she never recognized Terri's pain.

ELSIE WEYRAUCH: Apparently she had, we learned later, uni-polar depression and her emotional pain became so great that she died by her own hand.

ANDREW HOLTZ: For years, Jerry and Elsie grieved privately...often blaming themselves. But once they spoke with experts about suicide, their attitudes changed.

ELSIE WEYRAUCH: We've got to face it. We've got to face it in order to prevent it.

ANDREW HOLTZ: One day as Jerry Weyrauch was taking their dog for a walk around the lake behind their home, it came to him: their concerns about suicide, prevention, advocacy and networking, well, the effort should be called SPAN... a bridge bringing institutions and people together. So Jerry and Elsie founded

SPAN: the Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network.

During meetings in their dining room with others whose lives also have been touched by suicide, Jerry and Elsie devise strategies to spread their message... suicide now kills twice as many Americans as AIDS, and 60 percent more than homicide. But organization is only the first step.

JERRY WEYRAUCH: We work to develop political will.

ANDREW HOLTZ: Which they do, by going to the source. While Elsie's arthritis means they may not always move swiftly...they're getting their message out on Capitol Hill.

CONGRESSMAN JOHNNY ISAKSON: "Now is the time and awareness is the key."

ANDREW HOLTZ: Congressman Johnny Isakson, their representative from Georgia, is one of many lawmakers they call on during their monthly trips.

JERRY WEYRAUCH: You need to visit and revisit. It's building relationships so that people then have trust and confidence in what you're saying.

ANDREW HOLTZ: Their efforts are paying off. Congress put $3 million into research on suicide crisis hotlines. And their home state of Georgia committed $250,000 toward suicide prevention.

ELSIE WEYRAUCH: Our friend calls us agitators. She says we're pushing, we're very pushy people. And we are.

ANDREW HOLTZ: So pushy that the national suicide awareness event in Washington, DC, an event SPAN helped found, is now an annual tradition. Quilts are hung, displaying photos of those who took their own lives. Shoes are worn around the neck, symbolizing their memories, and everyone takes a place in line behind Jerry and Elsie, making noise, showing that suicide must no longer be a whispered secret.

ELSIE WEYRAUCH: It's important for us to be figureheads for people, and they see us and they see that we've made it, and we're able to endure.

JERRY WEYRAUCH: We each have, in our own way, found a hidden gift or treasure in this loss.

ANDREW HOLTZ: For Jerry and Elsie, it's the hope that something can be done to prevent it.

JERRY WEYRAUCH: We have given purpose to so many people who have lost someone to suicide who before would have said 'what difference can one person make?' And now we say, a lot.

SHARYL ATTKISSON: For more information on the Weyrauchs and their group, SPAN, log onto our Web site. We'll give you that address at the end of the program.

On to the next feature red arrow


Additional
Resources:

For more information about SPANUSA:
Call: 888-649-1366 or
http://www.spanusa.org/

Information on the Surgeon Generalís
National Strategy for Suicide Prevention:
http://www.mentalhealth.org/


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