Following his suicide on Sunday, Mark Madoff's body lay in a New York City morgue unclaimed until family quietly came forward to claim him for cremation. The family stated that they chose to have no funeral or memorial service to avoid the predictable media circus related to the Madoff Ponzi schemes.

Published reports speculated that the pressures -- surprise, surprise -- and events of the entire Madoff scandal pushed this vibrant, self-assured and eventual whistleblower to the edge. How sad, I thought, that a man who had achieved so much and apparently cared so much for family, chose to die with his innocent child sleeping in the next room, isolated from family and friends. Why?

The beleaguered mayor of Springfield, Ill., Timothy J. Davlin, was found dead in his home earlier this week, although law enforcement won't say how he died. Press reports say he was weighted down by financial troubles and questions about his administration of a relative's estate. He left a family of four adult children and grandchildren. Why?

On Tuesday of this week, an angry and frustrated man stormed a school board meeting in Panama City, Fla., threatened the members with a gun, but turned it on himself. His outburst came from the firing of his wife, who probably knew nothing of her husband's tragic visit. Why?

And then there was the senseless and methodical murder of management and employees this past summer at a beer distributing company in Manchester, followed by the gunman's suicide. His issues allegedly were based on racial bias, but, as always, it's hard to explain why he chose so many innocent bystanders along the way before he ended his life.

The list every year, and particularly around the holidays, seems endless. But in the years since this very tough recession began taking its toll in jobs and foreclosures, we seem to hear about more suicides. There are probably so many others we never hear about or that are couched as sudden death after a short illness.

My purpose in addressing this tough topic is not to depress readers, but simply to make all of us more sensitive to what's happening to so many people as a result of this ongoing economic debacle and to help friends and even family wherever we can. I have no magic explanations for why people choose to end their lives and I am not an expert. But I am a caring human being, and if there is a way of preventing suicide, which I learned from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, can be prevented, why not?

My wife, who is a social worker, has seen many clients over her career and most recently a lot of soldiers who have contemplated suicide. Thankfully, she has been able to help many of them turn a corner in their lives. Suicide is preventable.

I have to feel that in each of the few cases I mentioned, there were signs that loved ones and friends may have overlooked or simply didn't know how to recognize. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 11th most common cause of death in the United States. Most suicides are related to serious depression, alcohol, substance abuse or a major stressful event.

While some suicides occur without any outward warning, states the foundation, most people who are suicidal do give warnings, such as:

Observable signs of serious depression, including unrelenting low mood, pessimism, hopelessness, desperation, anxiety, psychic pain and inner tension, withdrawal and sleep problems; increased alcohol and/or other drug use; recent impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks; threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die; and unexpected rage or anger.

The foundation also offers warning signs of those making a plan: when they give away prized possessions, make a sudden or impulsive purchase of a firearm or obtain other means of killing oneself, such as poisons or medications.

Many of us have witnessed potentially suicidal people in our workplaces and more and more in our schools, and in most cases, we've probably ignored the signs. But, on the other hand, the average individual would legitimately feel uncomfortable trying to talk another human being out of suicide.

Several weeks ago, for instance, we witnessed on national television how a 15-year-old student took over a class of students for a period of time. Families and friends waited anxiously for a repeat of Columbine and other similar situations. Instead, in the end, these innocent students watched in horror as their classmate killed himself in the classroom. That undoubtedly left emotional scars that could take a lifetime to erase for those students.

Why? There are no answers, sadly, but as we approach this holiday season, there is something each of us can do. We can be sensitive to those around us. We can listen more to loved ones and friends, since suicide strikes close to home all too often. We can help.

Steven Gaynes can be reached at