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Medical Conference on mental health and wellness highlights help hotline for suicide prevention

May 25, 2023 10:00AM ● By Diane Fiske

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

Dr. Kelly Posner addressed 200 medical professionals about critical mental and behavioral health issues this past Friday at the annual conference of the National Medical Association at the Marriott Hotel in Center City Philadelphia.

The conference shed light on the seriousness of the mental health crisis associated with many essential facts, such as 21 percent or 50 million adults experiencing mental illness in the United States. In extreme cases, more than 12.1 million adults, or 4.8%, have reported thoughts of suicide. Moreover, half of those struggling with mental distress do not seek treatment. Even more disheartening is that access to medical care is more difficult among marginalized groups.

The National Medical Association focused on solutions to these issues, such as public education about treatment and services. Dr. Posner is an accomplished professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and the director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project, which seeks to prevent the serious issue of suicides. Death by suicides among young people, ages 15 to 24, are increasing, she said, even though rates decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic during the last two years.

Image: National Medical Association logo, and Dr. Kelly Posner. Source: National Medical AssociationColumbia Lighthouse Project

She said celebrities like Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman, whose bout recently with mental health (depression) was widely publicized, provide helpful examples for those trying to save the lives of potential suicide victims.

Concerning suicide, there are many old wives’ tales,” she said, noting that about 75 percent of suicides occur in the person’s home and not in an unfamiliar outside environment.

“It is another old wives tale that by talking about suicide, you will [then] put the idea in the person’s head,” Dr. Posner said.

Posner was a featured speaker providing expertise to national medical professionals at this critical educational industry conference.

She recited the basic two Columbia Lighthouse Project questions, distributed to everyone at the conference. These fundamental questions, she said, can save lives. And answering these critical questions affirmatively means the respondent could move on to the following important sequence of questions.

The Columbia Lighthouse Project first asks: Have you ever wished you were dead or wished you could go to sleep and not wake up, and have you ever had any thought of killing yourself? 

“These questions have saved hundreds of people’s lives.” Dr. Posner said. “It is a misconception that bringing up [the topic of] suicide endangers people. In fact, it is the opposite. Talking about the subject keeps respondents alive.”

If the initial questions about suicide are answered affirmatively, then the following questions can be asked. They are: 

  • Have you been thinking of how you may do this? Have you had these thoughts and had some intention of acting on them? 
  •  Have you started to work out the details of how to kill yourself? Did you intend to carry out this plan? Have you ever done anything, started to do anything, or prepared to do something to end your life?

Old wives’ tales assuming that you will put suicide in the distressed person’s head are popular but untrue, she observed.

In efforts to discourage suicide, Dr. Posner and her colleagues ensure that the 988 national suicide prevention hotline (or lifeline) is widely promoted through many avenues, such as public-awareness assistance campaigns, the media, and conferences such as the one organized by the National Medical Association. She said calling or texting this number can bring 24-hour help offered by trained crisis counselors to anyone struggling with mental and behavioral-related distress or those contemplating suicide. 

Surprisingly, Dr. Posner’s presentation about suicide and its prevention was delivered in a conversational style, with occasional glimpses of levity, which captured the audience’s attention; she encouraged attendees to smile or laugh at some of her humorous comments. It was all part of a deliberate attempt to pause the heavy issue.

One of the points she emphasized was that, unlike some other illnesses, effective medications are available for persons suffering from depression. It is part of a simple solution to a complex problem. However, U.S. statistics indicate that many people sadly do not pursue treatment. 

“They just have to take this medicine,” Dr. Posner said.

She said Senator Fetterman’s recent hospitalization for depression was an example of how depression can now be successfully treated.

“Any time a celebrity or public figure is open about the problem of depression, it helps everyone,” she concluded.

Image: Senator John Fetterman. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Also featured in the program was Dr. Edwin Chapman, a medical practitioner specializing in internal medicine in Washington, D.C., at his private practice. He has served on various boards, including the Howard University Physician Assistant Program and as Secretary of the Leadership Council for Healthy Communities in Washington, and Medical Director of the United Planning Organization. 

Chapman, in his remarks, covered the issue affecting underserved, marginalized communities. He said that “where you live has a lot to do with your survival rate, adding that: “People who lived on the less affluent side of the city lived 17 years less than those on the more affluent side.”

Dr. Chapman has practiced medicine in the District of Columbia for over 20 years. He has found that eligible patients in poor neighborhoods in the United States have medical coverage through Medicaid or Medicare that they do not even know about or use. He said a remedy would be to send coverage information directly to the patient and to hospitals and medical administrators to heighten awareness of availability.

 Image: Dr. Safiyya Shabazz, Source:

Dr. Safiyya Shabazz, the Medical Society of Eastern PA president, welcomed the audience attending the five-day mental-health conference. 

Dr. Shabazz said this year’s theme was: “Post Pandemic? The health of our physicians and community, where do we go from here?”

She said the National Medical Association was established in 1895 when the then-renown American Medical Association could not accept a doctor who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Since then, membership in the National Medical Association continues to be a viable option for many, including medical professionals of color. The local organization was started in 1961. Many Black doctors hold membership in both national organizations. Last week’s conference was just one positive demonstration of their commitment and participation in resolving pressing widespread mental health and wellness issues impacting communities worldwide. 


* Source of mental health statistics in this article: NEXTSTEP SOLUTIONS and Mental Health America “2023 State of Mental Health in America Survey.”



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