Suicide. Do you know the signs?

Last month, Richland County officials say the president of South Carolina's Hospitality Association, Tom Sponseller, took his own life.

A police report says Sponseller, 61, killed himself in a closet of his office building parking garage.

His suicide comes in the middle of a federal investigation in which $480,944.93 is missing from the association's bank accounts.

Those who knew Sponseller best say they failed to see anything was wrong and his suicide came as a surprise.

Those who've dealt with the taboo subject of suicide say that's often the case.

"You don't see the other side," said suicide counselor Pat Dofer. "It's like there's two sides. They're happy on the outside and sad on the inside."

Nine years ago Dofer's husband took his own life, leaving her with questions she couldn't answer.

"You don't see signs until maybe after. It was just a terrible thing to experience," said Dofer.

She's turned her grief into awareness, counseling others on the signs she missed and offering advice that comes from her experience.

The first Wednesday of every month at Inlet Square Mall in Murrells Inlet, Dofer leads a support group called "Survivors of Suicide".

"90 percent of the time it's more than one reason. They might stick that out as the main reason. But there's other things behind that too."

According to the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), nearly 30,000 Americans take their lives each year.

In its handbook, the association explains that those, like Dofer, who are left dealing with suicide often go through six phases; shock, denial, guilt, sadness, anger and acceptance.

The association says suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States and claims twice as many lives each year as HIV/AIDS.

"Many times we're not paying attention," said Shoreline Behavioral Health Services Director of Treatment Services Charles Bell, "and we figure all the times in the past they've been able to deal with it so what would make me think they would not be able to deal with it this time."

We often fail to see signs because we don't want to, said Bell.

The AAS says those who take their lives often let their suicidal feeling and intentions known, but it doesn't necessarily mean their suicide could have been prevented.

And there isn't just one tell-tale sign.

"Just different things. If you recognize that they are talking about things in a way that they normally don't, if they begin to do things, in other words, if they start to have conversation or whichever and they stop talking about a particular thing. There is a good chance that someone is going on that maybe be out of their capability to handle," said Bell.

He said because the signs are difficult to see there's only one thing we all can do to prevent suicides.

"On a day to day basis, we need to make sure that we treat people with respect," said Bell. "That we don't act aggressively toward them. That we treat them with the same type of respect that we want to be treated with."

If you or someone you know needs help dealing with suicide, you can call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.