By Dr. David Woo - September 13, 2018
In honor of suicide prevention week, we wanted to share with you some information on suicide in the US and a few important suicide prevention resources. Knowing the risk factors and warning signs can help prevent suicide.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States right now (1). Almost 45,000 people died as a result of suicide in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control (2). The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that approximately 1.3 million adults attempt suicide each year (3).
However, suicide is preventable. Let’s look at the risk factors, the warning signs, and what you can do to help prevent suicide.
Who is at risk for suicide?
Mental health conditions, such as depression, are commonly associated with suicide. However, there are also other factors that can contribute to suicidal thoughts.
Some people are at a higher risk for suicide attempts than others. Risk factors for suicide include (4):
- A history of suicide attempts
- A family history of suicide or exposure to others’ suicidal behaviors
- Drug or alcohol abuse or misuse
- Losses, such as a break up of a relationship or death of a loved one
- Crisis or negative life event, such as problems at work, legal issues, bullying, or any other difficult situation
- Chronic physical illness
These factors, when combined with access to a lethal means (like a firearm, poison, or other methods used for self harm), can help predict who is at higher risk for attempting suicide. However, the most important thing to watch for is the warning signs.
What are the warning signs?
If a person is contemplating suicide, they may behave differently than they usually do. Some of the following behaviors can be signs that a person is feeling suicidal (2):
- Isolating themselves from family, friends, and/or community
- Expressing that they feel they are a burden
- Experiencing anxiety or excruciating pain (physical or emotional)
- Feeling hopeless or trapped (physically or emotionally)
- Severe mood swings, increased anger or rage
- Increased drug or alcohol use, reckless behavior
- Sleeping more than usual, or less than usual
- Searching for access to lethal means (firearms, poison, or other means)
- Talking or posting on social media about a desire to die
If you recognize risk factors and warning signs in a friend or loved one, you may be able to help to prevent him or her from committing suicide:
- Be caring and direct: Ask the person you are worried about if they have thought about suicide.
- Prioritize safety: Try to limit the person’s access to lethal substances, weapons, or other means of hurting themselves.
- Be there for them: Be available to listen to your friend or loved one.
- Connect them to resources: Help the person connect with their doctor, provide them with the national suicide hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or call 911 if there is a crisis.
- Follow up: Continue to check in to see how they are doing.
Mental health care can help prevent suicide
When a person is more connected with mental health care, it can help protect them from the risk of suicide (4). Regular mental health care is a key resource for people who have struggled depression. Help your friend or loved one set up a consultation with Dr. Woo to explore treatment options.
If you are in a crisis
Call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255); someone is always available to talk there. All calls are confidential.
- National Institute of Mental Health. “Suicide.” May 2018. Click Here. Accessed September 10, 2018.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide rising across the US. June 2018. Click Here.. Accessed September 10, 2018.
- Ahrnsbrak R, Bose J, Hedden SL, Lipari RN, Park-Lee E, Tice P. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. September 2017. Click Here. Accessed September 10, 2018.
- American Psychiatric Association. “Suicide Prevention.” June 2018. Click Here. Accessed September 10, 2018.