by Tonya Schaeffer
According to National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is a major public health problem and a leading cause of death in the United States. The effects of suicide go beyond the person who acts to take his or her life – it can have a lasting effect on family, friends and communities.
Are Suicide Rates Increasing?
The American College Health Association (ACHA) states that the suicide rate among young adults, ages 15-24, has tripled since the 1950’s. On average, there are 129 suicides per day in the U.S. More males die from suicide than females (approximately four male deaths by suicide for each female death by suicide). However, females attempt suicide three times more often than males.
Some risk factors for suicide include: previous attempts; depression and other mental health disorders; family history of a mental health or substance disorder; family history of suicide; drug and alcohol abuse; family history of violence, including physical or sexual abuse; impulsivity and or poor self control; hopelessness; medical illness; firearms in the home; and being exposed to others’ suicidal behavior, such as a family member, peer or media figure.
There are many other factors that could lead to suicide, too. Even among people who have risk factors for suicide, most do not attempt it. It remains difficult to predict who will act on suicidal thoughts.
The following behaviors may be a sign that someone is thinking about suicide: talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves, sharing feelings of hopelessness, or feeling empty or numb. Other behaviors include planning or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for ideas, stocking up on pills or newly acquiring potentially lethal items (firearms or ropes). In addition, talking about being a burden to others, giving away important possessions, displaying extreme mood swings, or suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy are telltale signs.
Often in my office, a parent might be confused about how serious they should take their child talking about suicide. They might think their child is just seeking attention. However, suicidal thoughts or actions are a huge red flag that the person is in distress and an alert they need help. Any warning sign or symptom of suicide should not be ignored. Threatening to die by suicide is not a typical response to stress and should not be taken lightly.
Addressing Some Common Myths of Suicide
If I talk about suicide, then it might put the idea in their head.
This is not true! Several studies examining this concern have demonstrated that asking people if they are having suicidal thoughts or behaviors does not induce or increase such thoughts or experiences. Asking someone directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself,” can be the best way to identify someone at risk for suicide. Another myth is people believing that talking to the person directly can’t make a difference to them. Talking to the person can help tremendously – it opens up a line of communication. Ignoring or minimizing a person’s feelings, thoughts or actions surrounding suicide is not advisable.
Most of the time a family member or friend are the first people to notice the warning signs of suicide. If someone tells you they are going to kill themselves, do not leave them alone, and do not promise anyone you will keep their suicidal thoughts a secret. It is important to have a plan in place to make sure the individual is as safe as possible. But, you should seek professional help as soon as possible.
As a mental health professional, suicide is a major concern and we are quite often assessing for it. The amount of request for services related to suicide has increased dramatically over the years.
If you have someone in your life who you believe is suicidal, don’t wait to reach out for help. This is not something to take lightly. In fact, if they are displaying risk factors and have a plan, take them to a local emergency room to be assessed. All too often people are seeing warning signs and reach out to us for services, and due to demand we can’t accommodate them in their time of need.
If you know someone in crisis, you can also call the toll-free NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to everyone. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the LIFELINE via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. All calls are confidential.
Contact social media outlets directly if you are concerned about a friend’s social media updates, or dial 911 in an emergency.
The Crisis Text Line is another resource available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Text “HOME” to 741741.