A worrying upward trend has been observed in the global suicide statistics. This is especially true in the United States, where we’ve seen a 30% increase in deaths caused by suicide between 2000 and 2016.
For every person who dies from suicide, there are another 25 people who attempt it.
Men are more likely to take their own life the world over. The reason most people give is that the stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness, especially in men, prevents them from getting the help that they need.
Despite teenage boys and men being more at risk for suicide, there has been a massive 50% increase in suicides among girls and women over the past 16 years. Studies have shown that more teenage girls are having suicidal thoughts than ever before.
We’re joining forces and raising awareness to break the stigma during World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10) and Suicide Prevention Week (September 8 to 14, 2019).
This Year’s World Suicide Prevention Theme
Each year there is a specific theme during World Suicide Prevention day and week, this year’s theme is:
“Working Together to Prevent Suicide.”
Remember to use #WSPD19 in social media to spread awareness. With greater awareness we can break the stigma and encourage people to step forward and ask for the help that they need and deserve.
“Working together” is the key. As human beings, we need to feel part of our community and know that it is safe to ask for help when needed.
If you or someone you know is suicidal, it’s important to know that there is a wide range of support services available.
In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 34, and studies have shown that repeat suicide attempts are common in adolescents within the first 12 months after the first attempt.
This is especially true in those who have chronic medical conditions, non-affective psychotic disorders and those who have a history of sexual abuse.
Early intervention is important when people talk about taking their lives, as well as getting help and support during that first critical year after the attempt.
What are the Risk Factors for Suicide?
The risk factors for suicide fall into three categories:
People who are suffering from a mental illness are at a higher risk for committing suicide. An underlying psychiatric disorder has been implicated in over 90% of suicide attempts.
Unsurprisingly the highest rates of suicide are seen in people who are suffering from depressive disorders.
People commit suicide for a variety of reasons including:
- Drug and alcohol misuse
- Family breakdown
- History of trauma or abuse
- Social isolation
- Poor social conditions
Back in the 15th century Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus famously said:
“Prevention is better than cure.”
This World Suicide Prevention Day (and week) is taking his sentiment seriously. Finding ways to prevent suicide together will help people overcome a suicide crisis.
Taking Steps to Prevent Suicide
People normally attempt suicide as a last resort, for example, when they cannot solve a deep-seated emotional problem. The initial thoughts of suicide are early warning signs. Often suicide happens months after these thoughts begin to take root.
To prevent suicide, it is important to observe changes in behavior.
The following behaviors may imply that someone is thinking about suicide:
- Anxiety, worry, a low mood or being withdrawn
- Lack of interest in hobbies or socializing with family or friends that were previously pleasurable
- Loss of interest in personal appearance and hygiene
- Feeling hopeless or lacking a purpose or reason for living
- Reckless behavior and lack of remorse
- Talking about death or suicide
- Making a will, or sorting out aspects of life
Timing is Extremely Important
Timing is extremely important when it comes to suicidal behavior. Only one quarter of people who die by suicide get in touch with mental health services.
If you observe any of the above behavior changes in yourself or someone you are close to, it’s imperative to take steps to get help as soon as possible.
We need to develop a non-judgmental society that has a supportive attitude to suicide. The entire community plays a huge role in early prevention and care.
Knowing the early signs, such as a change in behavior can alert us that a person is in distress and needs support. Suicidal ideation must be approached with empathy and care.
Active vs Passive Suicidal Ideations
Suicidal thoughts are often referred to as “suicidal ideations” and they can basically be defined as thinking about or planning suicide.
Any type of suicidal ideation can be ongoing for long periods of time, or it can be a singular, one time event.
Things become more dangerous when they turn from passive suicidal ideations to active ones.
Passive suicidal ideations usually involve thinking about the desire to die because depression or life situations become so bleak, the person does not wish to continue living through the pain and emotional stress any longer.
These passive thoughts can occur one time, or can continue for some time, but they don’t involve a plan way of following through with the thoughts.
In contrast, active suicidal ideations take a more advanced or proactive approach to suicidal thinking and involve a plan for carrying out ways to die and be free from the emotional pain.
Even if a person doesn’t ever follow through with the plan, the thought process is more threatening and the intention more clear with active vs passive suicidal ideations.
Whether suicidal thoughts are passive or active ideations, it’s crucial to seek professional medical attention and ask for help to overcome these thoughts so they are not acted upon.
Asking for Help
For anyone that is having suicidal thoughts, the best course of action is to see a psychologist, psychiatrist, or depression treatment center. Severe psychological or emotional distress should never go unnoticed.
The easiest course of action is to see a family medical doctor who knows a person’s history and a relationship is already in place. Talk to them first and ask for a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist that would be a good fit.
Because many people have a stigma about talking with someone they know and wish to remain anonymous, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available around the country and provides free and confidential support over the phone.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be contacted at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
Recovering from a Suicide Attempt
For survivors, returning to “life as normal” is often not an option. Suicidal crises don’t come alone. There are often several attempts leading up to that fateful moment.
Feelings of desperation and unworthiness build up over time and often begin in childhood. Being open about our feelings is a major step forward.
Instead of stigmatizing people who have attempted suicide providing love and care is required.
The Suicidal Brain
When people make a suicide attempt there is a physical change in how the brain is functioning. The suicidal brain fails to see a way out of their situation, and the problem solving center closes down. This is known as “cognitive constriction.”
A failure to cope in the moment can make people believe that suicide is the only way out. This sort of tunnel vision is normally short lived and normal coping mechanisms often resume, within an hour or less.
Therefore learning healthy coping mechanisms for the future is a key approach to help people fully recover from a suicide attempt.
Unfortunately, many people turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with emotional problems. If substance use continues as a coping mechanism, individuals are at risk of addiction, which further complicates the original issues.
Addiction and emotional issues combined are recognized as co-occurring disorders and require dual diagnosis treatment to overcome both issues.
Recognizing the comorbidity of addiction and other mental health disorders, enables us to effectively treat substance use disorders and other existing mental conditions.
Successful recovery is possible after drug and alcohol dependency when we look at the reality of addiction and suicide.
Alo House is LegitScript Certified and a Joint Commission Accredited Addiction Treatment Center.
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