Often, some in our community believe the way to deal with a difficult issue is to pretend it does not exist or that it will go away.

Or worse, they believe if we talk about a difficult issue, it will only serve to encourage the problem. The fact is that denial will not resolve any issue; in fact, it will only make it worse. This is especially true when it comes to teen suicide and suicide prevention. Research has shown you cannot address a public health issue if you do not talk about it, or if there is no public awareness of the problem.

Nationally, suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death for all ages. In Texas, it is the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years, and accounts for 12.3 percent of all deaths annually.

According to the CDC, in the previous 12 months, 14.5 percent of high school students seriously considered suicide, and 6.9 percent of students reported making at least one suicide attempt. The unfortunate reality is that more Texans died as a result of suicide last year than homicides or HIV.

In the past few weeks, the Coastal Bend area has had at least five suicides by young people. Even one death is one too many.

We are losing young people as a result of suicide because they have lost hope. It is important to know that suicide is preventable. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

In our communities and in our families we need to be extremely clear that there is something we can do. First, we must educate and empower ourselves so we can be there for our children and for the young people in our community.

An organized and coordinated approach that involves the entire community including teens, young adults, parents, teachers, administrators, school nurses, clergy and other community leaders, can be the safety net in an effective suicide prevention strategy.

For young people who are reading this:

Know that you are tremendously loved beyond words and you are not alone. If you have feelings of committing suicide and are in pain, know that those feelings and emotions are clouding your judgment at this time.

So reach out, call someone, speak to someone - even scream for help if you need to. You are trying to end the pain, not your life; which are two very different things. Even though it feels like there is no one that understands or cares……I and many others do care and love you.

For community leaders who are reading this:

Know that we together must create an environment of safety for youth and young people so that they can address whatever issue they are grappling with, regardless of what it may be.

Most adolescent suicide attempts are precipitated by interpersonal conflicts. Those may include bullying in school; a young person grappling with being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender; an undiagnosed clinical depression or another serious mental illness; or a substance abuse issues.

They may also face any of life's other crisis like death, divorce or other unknowns. The fact remains, we have a responsibility to create a community environment that supports all of our young people so they have the tools and resources at their disposal to seek help when they need it.

Empower yourself, know the signs and act accordingly. We are all gatekeepers, so we have the opportunity to intervene. Seventy-five percent of those who completed suicide communicated some type of warning of their intentions.

Let us not shy away, because suicide and suicide prevention cannot stay hidden. Talking about suicide will not make someone commit suicide, but it will give the tools to prevent suicide.

I invite you to help us as a community answer the question "How do young people maintain hope in their lives?"

We are convening a Community Dialogue Workshop to Prevent Teen Suicide.

We are inviting communities throughout the Coastal Bend to convene in Alice, Texas on Jan. 9, 2009 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Hall (1010 Beam Station Road).

Be a part of the solution, be a part of a community-net of Hope and Life. And, most of all, be a part of saving someone's life. Life is precious, our young people deserve a long and happy life.

We can make a difference. "Si Se Puede!"

Martin Omelas is the director of the Coastal Bend Rural Health Partnership. Readers may contact him via telephone at (361) 664-0145, Ext. 268, or via e-mail at martin.omelas@cacost.org.