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Few events in a person's life rival the pain of a friend or family member's suicide. This is an intensely personal experience.

Into this difficult territory, we try to tread lightly as journalists. At the Victoria Advocate, it is our policy to report on all suicides in the Crossroads of which we are made aware, either from readers' questions or because the event occurred in public.

Some have asked why we do this, and we plan to revisit the issue during our upcoming monthly ethics board meeting. We have discussed the topic before, and I've blogged about it before, most recently after attending a national conference last year on media coverage of the subject.

Our reasons for reporting are primarily twofold:

-- Suicide is a public health issue. Society is not advanced by pretending mental health issues don't exist.

-- Rumors routinely surface about such deaths. A simple, straightforward reporting helps put rumors to rest.

When reporting, we try to follow the "Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide." Here are a few keys to these recommendations:

-- Be mindful of possible suicide contagion by avoiding sensational coverage.

-- Avoid too many details or simplistic answers about a suicide.

-- Provide information for others about how to get help.

With this in mind, here are warning signs from the same "Recommendations for Reporting on 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 800-273-TALK (8255)

• Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

The Crossroads' 24-hour suicide prevention hotline is 1-877-723-3422 at the Gulf Bend Center.

This isn't an easy issue for any of us, particularly those who have been touched by a suicide in some way. We consult regularly with the experts at Gulf Bend for help with our coverage of mental health issues. If you have suggestions for our ethics board, please let us know.