Preventing Suicides-Why I Do What I Do at the Injury Center



I wrote my first suicide note when I was 13 years old. I hid it and the many more that followed in my stamp collection, books or other secret hideaways, all places I knew my mom would never look.  For the next 15 years, each time I packed up my belongings for another move, I would find another one I had forgotten about. I would read each one with dismay.  I learned the hard way that an overdose only resulted in having to drink a thick black charcoal concoction with one ankle strapped to a bed frame to keep me from taking off.  Running the car in the garage took far too long and two rounds of Russian roulette proved me to be a very lucky woman.  


464131a32be92db1eb03bd70266fdd38 LBy my late 20’s, I’d racked up a number of inpatient psychiatric stays and had gone through more than a couple psychiatrists.  All were missed opportunities for a correct mental health diagnosis, finally culminating in a psychologist telling me “I was too smart to be doing all this.” That was it. I swallowed a lethal dose of prescription medication and waited for the inevitable.  A friend found me under a tree, unconscious.  I was 42 years old.     

A few months later I met the psychiatrist who saved my life.  After one session, he properly diagnosed me with rapid cycling Type 1 bipolar disorder. The proper combination of medications forever changed my life.  Only a few weeks later I was driving down the interstate in a state of peace I had never experienced before. It occurred to me ‘This is what regular people feel like.’  I smiled to myself and began the journey of recovery and learning how to really live. I know I am not alone, that there are many others out there just like me. 

This is why I do what I do.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans. But suicide deaths are only part of the problem. Like me, more people survive suicide attempts than actually die. No one needs to feel the pain I did – and no family ever needs to lose a loved one to suicide. My role at CDC is to collect and analyze surveillance data on violent death, including suicide.  One way I do this is with the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS).  NVDRS captures death certificate, coroner/medical examiner and law enforcement report information on all violent deaths in 18 US states, and combines them in a single data file. NVDRS also includes information on demographics, weapons, toxicology, victim-suspect relationships, precipitating circumstances or risk factors, and a narrative to better understand the violent death incident.  Researchers can then use this information to help inform prevention efforts.

NVDRS is one of many things CDC’s Injury Center is doing to prevent injuries and deaths caused by violence, including suicide. You can learn more about all of our work by visiting www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide.

And if you or someone you know is in emotional distress or having a suicidal crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also visit them online: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.orgExternal Web Site Icon.

Life is worth living.

Dr. Deb Karch, PhD

Dr. Karch is Surveillance Team Lead, Etiology and Surveillance Branch, Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC, Atlanta, GA.  She is the lead science officer for the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) and is working on projects linking NVDRS data to the Department of Defense Suicide Event Reports, state Adult Protective Services data, and National Center for Child Death Review records. In addition to NVDRS, her primary area of interest is in preventing elder suicide and elder abuse and neglect.  Dr. Karch received her Ph.D. in 1994 in Social Science from Texas Woman’s University and has published numerous manuscripts on surveillance and violent death prevention.  Prior to coming to CDC, Dr. Karch was a medico-legal death investigator at the state of New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator. 

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