(NEW YORK) -- Suicide is never painless. It not only robs family members of loved ones, but affects all of American society when otherwise productive individuals see no worth to their lives.
Broadly speaking, a federal study shows, 8.3 million Americans -- 3.7 percent of all adults -- have serious thoughts of suicide each year; 2.3 million make a plan and 1.1 million attempt suicide, resulting in an estimated 37,000 suicide deaths each year.
In some ways, that's the good news, according to John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Most who consider suicide do not follow through.
"People with the highest probability of killing themselves have tried before," he said. "The data shows about 7 percent who try to kill themselves will later die by suicide."
"The important thing is that 93 percent go on to live their lives," he said. "It's saying that even though this is a high-risk scenario, the overwhelming majority are doing OK or better and find ways to turn it around. How do they do that?"
Acts as simple as "checking in" with someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression can be an effective deterrent to suicide, according to Draper.
"First and foremost is the sense of meaningful connection in life," he said. "Someone or somebody who makes them feel they are cared about."
Preliminary research from a SAMHSA-funded team at Columbia University and NY State's Psychiatric Institute shows that follow-up calls with consenting Lifeline callers at suicide risk can help keep them safe.
More than half of the persons at risk who were contacted after suicide threats reported that the calls "kept them from killing themselves," according to the as yet unpublished study.
"Our results highlight the role that crisis centers can play to enhance the continuity of care for individuals at risk of suicide," said author Madelyn S. Gould, deputy director of the Research Training Program in Child Psychiatry at Columbia University.
"Crisis centers are well-positioned to provide this service to their own callers and patients discharged from emergency rooms," she said.
Draper said that post cards, phone calls and personal visits to those who are suffering from depression can help.
"Check in with individuals who are trying to hurt themselves and say, 'How are you doing? I'm still thinking of you,'" he advised.
He cited research in New Zealand that shows such communications from hospital emergency departments reduced suicide attempts "by 50 percent."
Beyond showing those who are troubled that they are valued, Draper said providing counseling and guidance is critical to recovery -- "teaching them skills to manage their thoughts and feelings."
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio