Seriousness of Suicide

If you are in crisis go too http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

or call National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I want to start this week’s series on mental health with one of the most important topics – suicide.

The happiest places on earth (not Disneyworld) have the highest suicide rates.  Denmark and Sweden, often ranked high on measures of happiness and life satisfaction, have relatively high suicide rates.  Perhaps, researchers speculate, this is because being around happy people make an unhappy person feel worse.  The point is, being surrounded by happy people or trying to force yourself to be happy won’t prevent suicide.  Suicide is serious and much more pervasive than we like to acknowledge.

Suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for all ages. Every year, nearly one million people die from suicide.  (According to the World Health Organization)

According to the Centers for Disease Control: More than 34,000 people kill themselves each year. An average of one person dies by suicide every 15 minutes.  And more than 376,000 people with self-inflicted injuries are treated in emergency rooms each year.

Men are about 4 times more likely than women to die from suicide, though women attempt 3 times more than men.

Though medications and therapy are effective in preventing suicide, many who attempt never seek professional care (perhaps because of stigmas I talk about in my another post).  Sadly, mental health care (whether therapy or medicine) may not be accessible to many for various reasons including financial or cultural reasons.   The absence of available, high-quality treatment however is a violation of the right to health.

More people survive suicide attempts than die.  Unfortunately, if someone survives, their attempt may be labeled as a “cry for help.”   This may be true for some, but likely it is a sign of something bigger.  It’s not necessarily about avoiding difficulties in life or selfish thoughts.  Many factors can contribute to suicidal thoughts or actions.  Ultimately, a suicide survivor should not be chastised or shunned for their actions.  Likely they know the seriousness and finality of their actions.  More shaming will not help them recover.

After a suicide attempt, the survivor needs more support than ever.  They need encouragement to seek help and follow up care with a doctor or therapist.  They need help removing triggers that may upset them in their environment.  They need a safe place to recover – meaning both removing unsafe items like guns or knives or medicines from the home and not being in an environment where they are judged or where others are fighting.  Survivors need help figuring out their options to move forward – to address the financial, emotional, relationship or other issues that may have led them to contemplate suicide.  This is a great resource from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – After an Attempt. (They also have one for survivors.)

Recognize that the family or friends of survivors may need help too in dealing with the aftermath of suicide attempts. (Help for suicide loss survivors)

What can you do before a suicide attempt occurs?  Recognize the risk factors:

  • Previous suicide attempt(s) or previous suicidal thoughts
  • History of abuse
  • History of depression or other mental illness
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Family history of suicide or violence
  • Physical illness
  • Mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, eating disorders, personality disorders
  • Pervasive feelings of being alone,  trapped, burdensome, purposeless and hopeless and low self-esteem
  • Not wanting to participate in family or social activities
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns: too much or too little
  • Feelings of anger, rage, need for revenge
  • Feeling exhausted most of the time
  • Trouble with concentration, problems academically or socially in school
  • Not taking care of self
  • Reckless, impulsive behaviors

If you feel at risk – seek help.  If nothing else, start talking to someone.  Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.

If you see signs that concern you, don’t be afraid to address the subject with a friend or family member.  Don’t be afraid to approach a co-worker or classmate.  Ask them how they are and what’s going on in their life, listen carefully and offer support.  Talk frankly about the subject of suicide and offer hope.  Don’t be judgmental, lecture, or in shock rush to call an ambulance if they voice that they’ve been thinking about suicide (do call for help if they actually take action or will imminently do so).  Offer resources such as the following:

Finally, take a look at Postsecret.com‘s project  PostSecret is a collection of postcards where people share their secrets anonymously.  Some are funny, others are serious, and some are a bit explicit.  Part of the idea behind PostSecret is addressing suicide, letting people see they are not alone.

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4 Responses to Seriousness of Suicide

  1. […] already wrote about studies that show the happiest places on earth having the highest suicide rates.  Countries including Denmark and Sweden, often ranked high on measures of happiness and life […]

  2. What We Don’t Know About Suicide (http://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewherper/2011/11/14/what-we-dont-know-about-suicide/) – an article on Forbes.com by Matthew Herper on 11/4/2011

  3. The Forgotten Patients – (http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0913/health-mental-health-industry-suicide-forgotten-patients.html) – an article on Forbes.com by Robert Langreth and Rebecca Ruiz, 9/13/2010

  4. A study in the American Journal Of Psychiatry helps predict who is at risk for suicide – published November 8, 2011 in the American Journal of Psychiatry (http://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleid=180115&RelatedWidgetArticles=true):

    The Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale: Intial Validity and Internal Consistency Findings From Three Multisite Studies with Adolescents and Adults by Kelly Posner, et. al.

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