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What You Need to Know About Suicide

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. As if that weren’t jarring enough, in 2019, 47,511 Americans died by suicide, with 1.38 million attempts.

Even more alarming, the age-adjusted suicide rate in 2019 was 13.93 per 100,000 individuals. Unfortunately, if going by previous pandemics, the COVID-19 pandemic may increase suicide risk. For the time being, however, here are some other staggering facts regarding suicide in the United States;

  • The rate of suicide is highest in middle-aged white men.

  • In 2019, men died by suicide 3.63x more often than women.

  • In 2019, firearms accounted for 50.39% of all suicide deaths.

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States among ages 15–24.

  • Compared to heterosexual youth, the rate of teen suicide is 3.5 times greater for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth.

  • On average, there are 130 suicides per day.

In short, suicide is a major public health crisis that needs to be better understood so that it can be prevented.

What is Suicide and Suicidal Behavior?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide “is defined as death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior.”

“A suicide attempt is a non-fatal, self-directed, potentially injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior. A suicide attempt might not result in injury.”

Suicidal ideation refers to thinking about, considering, or planning suicide.”

Why Do People Take Their Own Life?

There are a variety of answers, including;

  • Depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders.

  • A family history of suicide.

  • Lifestyle changes, such as job loss, relationship conflict, loss of a loved one.

  • Substance abuse.

  • Beginning or changing psychotropic medications.

  • Exposure to abuse, trauma, or violence.

  • Bullying, isolation, or feeling stigmatized.

Misconceptions About Suicide

  • Myth: It's dangerous to ask a depressed person whether they're considering suicide. In reality, the individual may feel relieved as this gives this an opportunity to share how they’re feeling.

  • Myth: Young children don’t die by suicide. Concerningly, suicide is rising for kids as young as five to 12 years old.

  • Myth: People who want to die always find a way. "When people are suicidal, many times they're highly ambivalent. They're unsure about suicide," explains Peggy Wagner, head of clinical operations and of organization risk management services at Aetna Resources For Living "They're torn between a desire to live and a desire to die."

  • Myth: Suicide happens without warning. While sadly overlooked, people who are contemplating suicide give out verbal or behavioral cues.

  • Myth: Someone who has their act together isn’t at risk of suicide. "We look at the outside veneer and say, 'They're doing great. Life is wonderful. How could they even contemplate suicide?' But you really don't know what's going on inside of someone," Wagner says.

  • Myth: People who take their lives are selfish. It may seem like this. But, they’re suffering to a point where they view this unfortunately as the only option.

  • Myth: Most suicides happen around the winter holiday season. Believe it or not, despite the holidays being a stressful time of time, suicides peak around the springtime.

  • Myth: When someone recovers after hitting rock bottom, their risk of suicide declines. “Many times, people are at the highest risk of attempting suicide when they first get out of the hospital,” she says. “So it’s important to make sure that they have ongoing treatment and support after they get out of the hospital.”

  • Myth: Giving someone a hotline number to call is enough. While effective, they may need help from a mental health professional as well.

Warning Signs of Suicide

Even though you can’t see what people are thinking or feeling, there still ways to recognize whether or not they’re having suicidal thoughts, such as;

  • Feeling hoopless or trapped

  • Talking, writing, or posting on social media about death or suicide

  • Writing goodbye letters

  • Making a will or giving away possessions

  • Changes in weight, appearance, or sleep patterns

  • Engaging in self-harm or reckless behavior

  • Avoiding social interactions or activities they used to enjoy

  • Trouble concentrating and/or a decline in school or work performance

  • Mood swings

  • Physical complaints like migraines or stomaches

  • Stockpiling medications, drugs, or weapons

  • Becoming calm or cheerful following a period of depression

Suicide Prevention and Treatment

If you notice any of the warning signs above or suspect that someone you know may be considering suicide reach out to them and voice your concerns. While this is definitely a nerve-racking experience, being upfront can help break the ice. Just ask how they’re doing in a calm and non-judgemental way.

Some other tips to remember are to listen to them attentively and be supportive. Acknowledge that their feelings are legitimate and remind them that they are not alone. You can also recommend that they seek the following treatment options such as psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

But, if you believe that they are in imminent danger do not leave them alone and remove anything that could cause them harm. And, call 911 or take them to the emergency room.

Resources for Suicide Prevention

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