The World Health Organization estimates that one million people die from suicide each year. Two people end their lives every single minute. Unfortunately, suicide does not get talked about enough until someone famous commits it. Suicidal people may or may not ask for help. Chances are he or she will not. This doesn’t mean help isn’t needed, and it doesn’t mean help is not wanted.
Suicide is the tenth on the list of leading causes of death in the United States, according to Medical News Today, but this does not paint the entire picture. Although only 1.6% of US deaths are caused by suicide, it is the second leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 34. Clearly suicide affects the young more so than it does the older.
We’re going to talk about suicide, what causes suicidal thoughts, warning signs of suicide, and how to help those who are suicidal. We’re also going to talk about how the suicide rate is going up, and also about something called ‘suicide contagion,’ (how celebrity suicides influence the masses.) Lastly, we will have a true/false section that exposes some myths about suicide as well as some truths.
Suicide – What and Why
Suicide (and suicidal thought) is a complicated ordeal. There is a multitude of things that cause suicide, and every single case is unique. Depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and basically just about any other mental and/or personality disorder can bring on suicidal thoughts/actions. However, suicide can also be spontaneous, caused by financial difficulty, relationship trouble, and/or being a victim of bullying. Not to mention, accidental suicide also exists.
As mentioned, approximately one million people due by suicide globally every year. America is home to nearly 45,000 of these deaths. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death both on a global scale and here in the US. Males commit suicide over 3.5 times more often than females do, and white males accounted for 7 out of every 10 suicides in the year 2016, according to the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention).
Just over half (51%) of suicides are committed using firearms. Suffocation accounts for about a quarter of suicides, and poisoning accounts for about 15% of them. The other 8% or so consists of various methods. This is horrible. People are shooting themselves and suffocating themselves and poisoning themselves at a rate of two per minute.
It’s rather difficult to describe exactly what causes suicide, as this author has never experienced suicidal thoughts or actions – at least not on any meaningful level. (Surely there was a time in my youth when I claimed I would do so, but likely because I couldn’t go to a friend’s house or something.) So, while the actual cause of suicide is essentially unknown, there are certain risk factors and/or warning signs that indicate suicidal thoughts/actions may be occurring.
Psychiatric illness is the most likely prerequisite to suicides that are not spontaneous or accidental. Depression can be a beast, and sometimes it truly can feel as though there is no way out of it. The truth, of course, is that there is always a way out of depression and that suicide is never worth it. Substance abuse is another common cause of suicide, especially alcohol abuse, as thoughts become convoluted and negative feelings get exacerbated.
Other mental disorders/psychiatric illnesses can cause suicidal thought or action. The difficulty in analyzing this comes from the fact that every single person is vastly different from the next. Someone with a mild case of anxiety could become suicidal, whereas someone with extreme personality disorders and depression may never feel suicidal at all. This is why risk factors for suicide exist, but not definitive causes. The following is a list of potential causes, warning signs, and risk factors for suicide.
- Mental disorders
- Substance abuse
- Extreme pain, emotional or physical
- Family history of suicide
- Lost will to live
- Significant loss
- Withdrawal from loved ones
- Unusual levels of sadness and/or despair
- Changes in sleeping/eating patterns
- Unusual changes in personal appearance
More to be Aware of
You might think that those who are suicidal are sad, down, and overall depressed. This is simply untrue. In fact, oftentimes victims of suicide are spoken of as happy, uplifting, and least likely to do something so horrible. Some people who are suicidal will mask their feelings with excessive energy or extreme socialization. According to Canada-based MediResource, “Agitation, hyperactivity, and restlessness may indicate an underlying depression that is being concealed.”
Also, never dismiss someone who talks about suicide. The moral behind the story ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf’ does not apply here. Each and every time someone mentions suicide should be considered a red flag, one big enough to pay attention to. Again according to MediResource, “Many people believe that even though a person might talk about suicide, they will not actually do it. In fact, talking about suicide is a warning sign that the person is at greater risk. If you become so overwhelmed by your problems that suicide becomes a consideration, you deserve to be taken seriously.”
How you can Help
As uncomfortable as it may be, helping start with talking. You have to get into a conversation with someone who you think may be suicidal in order to help them. It’s not like hunger where you can just send food. People experiencing suicidal thoughts or actions need positive human interaction in order to reinforce the importance and beauty of being alive – no matter how difficult being alive might be right now.
Surely a major factor in suicide is the feeling of battling the hardships of life alone. Therefore, someone who is suicidal will very likely find relief in sharing their pain with somebody. The absolute most important thing to remember when talking to a suicidal person is to never pass judgment. Now is not the time to take things with a grain of salt.
Speak directly. Ask if they have attempted suicide. Ask if they have a plan to carry the suicide out. The more detail a suicidal person offers is more reason to take the person seriously. This is not to say that every single case of suicidal tendencies should not be taken seriously; truth is simply that some cases are more severe than others. Yet in ALL cases, the best way to help is to talk. You may think that by asking about it you’ll somehow make it worse, but you won’t. You will be opening the door to a conversation that never would otherwise start, a conversation that could save a life.
So how do you do it? We suggest keeping it relatively light, but still direct. “Hey I sense you’ve been a little off lately. Is everything ok?” Or you could say something like, “I’m feeling concerned for you for some reason lately.” Let him or her know that you are there, willing to listen, and empathetic. Avoid arguing with the person, acting shocked or scared, and offering answers. This is not your fight. For more details on what to do and what not to do, see the section below titled Myths Vs. Facts.
It’s imperative you do what you can to help, especially since the suicide rate has been going up for over fifteen years in the United States. Suicide is a quiet epidemic, especially amidst the current opioid crisis and the overall feeling of America right now. Let’s talk about that.
A Quiet Epidemic
The ‘conclusions’ section of a study performed this month by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) on trends in US suicide rates begins as such: “Suicide rates increased significantly across most states during 1999–2016.” There is no guesswork. Suicide is on the rise, and now is the time to attack the epidemic head-on. Read on to discover what other harsh truths the CDC study unveiled.
During this sixteen year stretch, the rate of suicide went up “significantly,” as the authors put it, in 44 of the 50 US states. The rate went up by more than 30 percent in 25 of those 44 states. However, it was more than horrible statistics that the study found. For example, in the words of the authors, “suicide prevention is often oriented toward mental health conditions alone.” Yet the CDC study also found the following to be true:
“This study found that approximately half of suicide decedents… did not have a known mental health condition, indicating that additional focus on non-mental health factors further upstream could provide important information for a public health approach. Those without a known mental health condition suffered more from relationship problems and other life stressors such as criminal/legal matters, eviction/loss of home, and recent or impending crises.”
Half of suicide victims are mentally stable. Therefore, it might be time to change how we approach prevention. Instead of focusing on combating the mental health disorders usually associated with suicide, perhaps we should be combating the idea of suicide in general. The study even goes on to say that those who did have a mental disorder often experienced other life stressors on top of it. Perhaps mental illness is simply not enough to cause suicidal thought or action.
Changing the Approach
Strategies for preventing suicide should still include how to cope with mental illnesses. However, it is our belief that prevention should also include:
- Strengthening the economy of individuals
- Offering problem-solving courses/activities
- Teaching coping skills
- Stress management
- Promoting social skills and interaction
- Work-based/school-based programs that address suicide
- Safe media reporting
That last one, regarding how the media treats suicide, is a doozy. There is something called suicide contagion that is currently alarming suicide specialists. As reported this month by CNN, “Suicide contagion is a process in which the suicide of one person or multiple people can contribute to a rise in suicidal behaviors among others, especially those who already have suicidal thoughts or a known risk factor for suicide.”
Put it this way: Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade were very wealthy people. Recently, each celebrity committed suicide. Now, for someone without a lot of money, stressed, and already suicidal, can you imagine why feelings of hopelessness would arise? Plus, the glamorization of celebrities post-suicide rarely mentions treatment for suicide or even a hotline number. Consider this, also from the CNN article: “There was a 9.85% increase in suicides, an additional 1,841 deaths, recorded in the United States in the four months following comedian Robin Williams’ death by suicide in 2014.” This means 15 more people than average killed themselves every single day for four months after Mr. Williams did the same.
In conclusion, there is ample evidence suggesting we need to revamp suicide prevention methods to include more than help with mental illness. Also, it’s important to talk to your loved ones about suicide, especially if you have reason to believe one of them may be suicidal.
Nothing is worth dying for. If you need help right now, call us at Atlantic Recovery Center, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741.