UK pediatrician leads anti-suicide initiative



By Dan Collins

A UK pediatrician is leading a global campaign against teen suicide, placing emphasis on awareness and prevention.

Dr. Hatim Omar practices in the Division of Adolescent Medicine, in UK’s pediatrics department. The division houses an interdisciplinary team trained to help teens with most medical needs, including eating disorders, depression and thoughts of suicide.

While the majority of patients seen are young women with feminine issues, Omar has been active both locally and internationally combating a deadly issue facing teens: suicide.

“Dr. Omar will see anybody,” said Leanne Mallory, a senior social worker within the Division of Adolescent Medicine. “Patient care is his No. 1 priority.”

Omar co-founded the Stop Youth Suicide Campaign in 2000 and now acts as the committee’s chairman.

The mission of the campaign is to raise awareness and educate the public of high risk behavior that could lead to suicide, according to

Suicide is the third most common reason for death among teens in the U.S., behind accidents and homicide, Omar said.

In Kentucky, suicide is No. 2.

“Eighty-seven people in the U.S. die per day from suicide,” Omar said. “If every day we have a passenger jet crash and kill 87 people, we would do something about it.”

Omar said suicide claims more adolescent lives annually than all other diseases combined, but state funding toward the prevention of suicide is far less.

One of the biggest contributors to teen suicide is the lack of communication on all fronts, he said.

During a recent visit to New Zealand, a country which has experienced a high number of teen deaths in the last decade, Omar argued that ignoring the subject wouldn’t make it go away.

He said that in New Zealand, suicide is something people are afraid to talk about, and the media is restricted in reporting about suicide.

“If we don’t talk about (suicide), it becomes normal,” Omar said.

“Prevention of youth suicide starts at home,” he said.

As one of 10 children, Omar was born in Palestine and was raised in a home with no running water or electricity, he said. He decided to devote his life to medicine after losing his mother at the age of 9.

“We had a good family,” Omar said.

He cited three key factors he claims all teens need for healthy development: the support of an adult, a safe place to reside and something productive to do with

their time.

“Kids need a lifeline,” Omar said, “someone to talk to.”

Omar has become globally recognized as an expert on teen suicide prevention, receiving a multitude of awards.

He said he receives offers almost daily for positions paying nearly double his current salary. However, Omar has no interest working anywhere else, he said.

“Dr. Omar feels this is the best program for suicide prevention in the world,” Mallory said.

The Stop Youth Suicide Campaign offers different forms of support to adolescents and parents.

There are 24-hour phone lines, in both English and Spanish, available to anyone seeking aid or information. Teens and parents can also receive help via email.

The helpline and other information can be found at