The holidays are a time when those dealing with depression are most vulnerable.

A family services group in Madison hopes a new suicide prevention program might help people recognize early warning signs as national suicide rates continue to rise.

Troy Hedges, executive director of Pathways Youth Shelter and Family Services, said the new prevention program focuses on community involvement.

QPR - which stands for question, persuade and refer - is an early response method for people trying to help prevent a suicide. It's a form of prevention that's easy for anybody to use, Hedges said.

"It's similar to CPR," he said. "It's about educating the community into being more aware."

Creating community involvement is one of the best ways to prevent suicide attempts, which usually increase in December, Hedges said.

"Christmas is a great time for a lot of folks," Hedges said. "In December, we focus so much on family, and sometimes people without family have more time to reflect and think about that."

A recent study showed 800 Hoosiers commit suicide each year, Hedges said, with 17,500 people attempting suicide.

According to a report by the U.S. Surgeon General, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the country. The same report said that, between 2001 and 2009, more than 33,000 Americans died each year as a result of suicide - or more than one person every 15 minutes.

Hedges said statistics like that are why the federal government is taking this new approach to suicide prevention. Recognizing warning signs is the first step.

"A lot of people think about it, but they don't always come out and tell people about it," he said.

Warning signs include talking about suicide, loss of interest in hobbies, dramatic mood swings and withdrawing from friends and family members.

Hedges said many people showing warning signs are looking for an excuse not to commit suicide, so talking to someone is an easy first step toward prevention.

"Most people really don't want to do it; they don't want to die," Hedges said. "They just want the pain to go away."

Psychiatrist and author Dr. Norman Rosenthal said, "Everybody expects the holidays is gonna be this tremendous party and everybody is gonna have so much fun. But for a lot of people it is not always that way."

He urges those who are depressed to get back to the basics by celebrating the real meaning of the season. He emphasizes the human connections rather than the material side of the holidays.

"Remember to get into the spirit of things, relaxing, being with friends and family, reaching out perhaps to those who are less fortunate than you are because gratitude is a key of happiness," he said.

Rosenthal and his collegues discovered Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as the winter blues, in 1984. He said people may need to seek a specialist to distinguish between the holiday blues and the winter blues, since they are treated differently.

"The one needs company, companionship, friendship, reaching out. The other actually needs light and some specific things that the winter blues require," he said.

Rosenthal said if you are feeling lonely or disdvantaged, try volunteering. It's a great way to get out and about, while helping others at the same time. And if you suspect that a friend or loved one is suffering from holiday depression, reach out. That can have a huge impact on the particular individual and their peers.

There are several suicide prevention groups with hotlines to call, Hedges said. The National Suicide Prevention phone number is (800) 873-8255 and the Southern Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition number is (812) 288-4868 ext. 25237.