Tag Archives: Suicide

Death by Suicide at an All-Time High

I recently read an article  which stated that suicide has now surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of injury-related death in the United States.  From 2000 to 2009, the suicide death rate went up 15 percent.  That blew my mind.  It’s scary to think that so many people are finding it necessary to deal with their pain in an irreversible way.

Interestingly enough, the literature shows that people are committing suicide for the standard reasons: substance abuse, mental illness, a family history of violence, depression, etc.  So why is suicide on the rise?

Suicide basically stems from a person’s lack of hope for the future.  They are convinced that things won’t change or get better, and they feel helpless, hopeless, and worthless.  They hate themselves, feel like a burden on others (especially when the person is older), and have an “everybody would be better off without me” kind of attitude.

What the person doesn’t realize is that they still have a lot to offer.  That’s probably one of the most important considerations in giving someone hope: they need to believe that they are valuable.

Where there is community, familiarity, bonding, and connections with community and family, you’re going to find a lower suicide death rate.  One of the problems we have in our society as it has evolved is that the morality of obligations and sacrifice has pretty much gone by the wayside.  People are up, out, and gone.  I think the dissolution of our families and community has a lot to do with the increased instances of suicide because people feel helpless, hopeless and isolated more than ever. 

Years ago, if someone’s barn burned down, everybody within 50 miles would come with wood, nails, paint, and food.  They would set up shop and rebuild that person’s property.  If there was a death in someone’s family, the community pulled together.  People lived close to each other and very few had to go it alone.  Kids were more surrounded by family and other kids in reasonable neighborhoods.  Yes, of course there were still jerks, but you were able to survive things much better because you felt like your back was always being watched.

Even though there have been many advances in medicine and technology, a lot of people today are feeling lonely, desperate, hopeless, and helpless.  Little kids are growing up in homes where their parents get divorced, bring other boyfriends and girlfriends into the picture, and shack up.  People make some babies here and other babies there, and they don’t even bother to give their kids a mother AND a father because they don’t feel like their kids need that.  As a result, a lot of kids are growing up without intact, supportive families.  It’s interesting that when a kid or teenager commits suicide, people often attribute it to bullying rather than looking at their family or community dynamics (abuse, hostile home environment, etc).  They are trying to pin the wrong tail on the donkey. 

It’s very sad that more and more of our fellow human beings are feeling so tragically lost.  I think kids these days don’t have a lot to look forward to.  When I was young, your future was, more often than not, clear and secure in your mind if you finished high school.  You either got a job or went to college.  After college, you either got a job or went to graduate school.  Somewhere along the line, you got married, had a family, and built ties with extended family and neighbors.  Sure, the future had some bifurcations and you needed to make choices, but for the most part, things were pretty clear.  You knew you were going to get a job and have a family.  

Nowadays, kids grow up not knowing if they are going to be able to have either one.

The teenage years are messy to begin with.  Teens have a lot of pressure to succeed, and they desperately want to fit in.  If a kid feels they have no support, especially at home, it’s tough for them to be hopeful. 

I think many articles about suicide leave out a large part of the truth because it is bound to offend somebody.  Truth is often excised from information today because as a society, we’ve made “not offending anybody” the highest priority.  However, I find it offensive that we don’t deal with things openly and honestly because people are paying a price for it.  For example, here are some common misconceptions about suicide.
Do I feel that suicide is ever justified?  Yes, I do.  If a person is terminal, not getting any better, and suffering from intolerable pain, I think it is cruel to keep them in that position.  Denying someone an alternative, peaceful way out when they are going out anyway doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  However, in any other situation, I do not think suicide is justified.  There’s a way out of everything, except death.   

If you have even a NOTION that someone is suicidal, call 911 and have them hauled off for a 72-hour hold with a psychiatric team to figure out what needs to be done.  Many times, the person doesn’t give much indication, or everyone is too busy to notice.  Sometimes it’s even a little bit of both.  But, if someone mentions suicide, you need to take it seriously.

In addition, if someone you know takes his or her own life, you have to remember that the person who kills themselves ultimately takes full responsibility for their death – not you or anyone else.  I’ve worked with so many parents and spouses who believe they should have known.   However, unless you’re psychic, you may not be able to know. 

The one thing you can do is reconsider the atmosphere you have at home and the support you give your family, friends, and people around you.  We’re losing that sense of connection and purposefulness that comes from forming bonds between each other, and we need to get it back.

Preventing Suicide

Suicide is one of the most horrible events that can happen.  It’s devastating to the people left behind and very sad that an irrevocable step was taken by a human being.  And you never know when it could happen.

From the National Institute of Mental Health

Suicide is a major, preventable public health problem. In 2007, it was the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for 34,598 deaths. The overall rate was 11.3 suicide deaths per 100,000 people. An estimated 11 attempted suicides occur per every suicide death.

Risk factors include:

  • Depression, other mental disorders or a substance-abuse disorder.  Often the substance-abuse disorder goes hand in hand with a mental disorder.  90 percent of the people who die by suicide have these two risk factors.
  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Family history of mental disorders or substance abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Firearms in the home (the method used in more than half of suicides).
  • Incarceration
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family members, peers, or media figures.

Suicide or suicidal behaviors, however, are not normal responses to stress; just because someone may have one or two of these risk factors doesn’t mean they are going to kill themselves.

Almost four times as many men as women commit suicide, with males using firearms 56% of the time while women use poisoning 40% of the time.

In 2007, suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.  Most likely, suicide is due to existential issues: young people going from being a kid to an adult, or not having the maturity to deal with romantic, work, and transitional situations.  Some illnesses like schizophrenia tend to show up in the early 20s. And as with the general population, young people are more likely to use firearms, suffocation and poisoning over other suicide methods.

Older Americans are disproportionally likely to commit suicide.  The national average in the general population is 11.3 per 100,000 people.  Those who are 65 or older average 14.3 per 100,000 people.

When people call me who believe someone is just crying for attention, I tell them not to think that way. Most suicide attempts are expressions of extreme distress, not harmless bids for attention.  If a person who appears in any way suicidal, and you’re going to make an error, err in the direction of getting that person hospitalized immediately.

A type of psychotherapy I’ve talked about numerous times and is a major contributor to my perspective on helping people is cognitive therapy.  All kinds of studies have shown cognitive therapy has reduced the rate of repeated suicide attempts by 50 percent during a follow-up year.  Cognitive therapy helps suicide attempters consider alternative actions than self-harm.

If you think someone is suicidal – do not leave them alone.  Get them help immediately.  Call 911 or put them in the car and take them off to the psychiatric ward at a hospital. Eliminate any access to any tool than may be used in a suicide, like drugs, knives, guns, or rope…

One of the most horrifying things that happened to me as a psychotherapist was helping a particular married couple.  A colleague of mine was counselling the wife, and I was counselling the husband.  He was distressed for many reasons.  I learned he had a gun and I made a deal with him to get rid of it.  His wife confirmed he had done so.  He began to feel better and terminated our therapy sessions.  Sometimes when people start to feel better, it means they have put a suicide plan into place, and about three months later in front of his wife, he pulled out a new small caliber pistol and shot himself.  Ultimately, these things are uncontrollable unless you’re physically there and can call for help.

So while we can know the signs of what risk factors to look for, knowing what’s going on in the recesses of someone’s mind is tough.  But if suicidal behaviors are being demonstrated, get nervous and do something about it.  Don’t stand by thinking, “I don’t want anybody to be mad at me.”