Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 25- to 34-year-olds and the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year olds. About 1.4 percent Americans commit suicide which makes it the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S.
The largest increase in the past 30 years has been among young people (age 15 to 24) and most recently, Caucasian middle aged men and women (Center for Disease Control, CDC 2008).
Men kill themselves about four times the rate compared to women. About 3 percent of adults make one or more suicide attempt. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the number of suicides may increase as millions of people worldwide grapple with the economic crisis. Director of the Department of Mental Health for WHO states: “There is clear evidence that suicide is linked to financial disasters.”
Research and psychological autopsies attempt to explain the reasons why people commit suicide, with all agreeing it is most likely “escape from an unbearable situation” where adolescent depression and suicidal ideation (thinking about committing suicide) is often caused by a single reaction to an event, such as failing a class or loss of a relationship. This may indicate that extreme stress and pressure young people experience, can lead to fatalistic thinking when coping skills and a strong social support systems are absent.
Suicide and suicide attempts are directly related to excess alcohol and drug use, although there is no causal relationship. For example, alcoholism can cause loss of friends, family, and job, leading to social isolation, or vice versa; job loss can lead to alcoholism and other socially devastating consequences.
Alcohol and suicide may both be attempts to deal with depression and misery. Alcohol also increases impulsive behavior and the effects of other sedative drugs often used in suicide attempts. A man may drown his sorrow in alcohol for years before he decides to drown himself.
Most likely suicide has multiple causes with some individuals being at a higher risk (history of alcohol and/or drug use, mental illness such as unipolar or bipolar depression, lack of social support, economic losses, and social isolation, presenting a serious problem that has devastating effects on all of us. Increased awareness and reaching out to those around us, as a community, can have profound positive effects and may impact behavior to individuals at risk for suicide.
The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) with WHO proclaimed September 10, 2009 World Suicide Prevention Day. President of IASP, Professor Brian Mishara states: “Suicide is preventable. Suicide deaths exact a tremendous and tragic psychological, social and economic cost every year, but the primary message that needs to be conveyed is that suicide is preventable ... more than one million people worldwide die by suicide each year. More people kill themselves than die in wars, terrorist activites and homicides.”
The most important and often very difficult thing is for someone to ask for help. As parents, friends, teachers, and community members it may be helpful to be more aware and reach out to those who remain silent but show possible signs of suicidal ideation. Do take suicidal threats very seriously, provide support and comfort and call 911 if you are not sure.
Be aware and know the signs of suicide ( Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, 2009):
Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, pills or other means. Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for that person. Feeling hopeless Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge. Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities seemingly without thinking. Feeling trapped, like there is no way out. Increasing drug or alcohol use. Withdrawing from friends, family, and society. Feeling anxious, agitated or unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time. Experiencing dramatic mood changes. Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK
Astrid Heathcote is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice and residence in Ahwatukee, she can be reached at (480) 275-2249 or drastrid.org.