Changing the Statistics of Suicide

***Trigger Warning***

The following article contains many references to suicide and death by suicide that may not be suitable for some people. If you are easily disturbed by such a topic, please, do not read any farther.  

The month of September was suicide awareness month and I have been writing articles for the CPTSD Foundation about this difficult subject. The fourth piece I wrote in my four-part series speaks about the stats of suicide and how we can defeat them.

Far too many people who live with the diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder die by suicide. The only way to defeat this enemy is to speak openly and frankly about it to bring suicide out of the shadows and into the light of day.

The following is that article and it will focus on the statistics of suicide before discussing ways to end the heartbreak that has afflicted so many families.

Statistics to Better Understand

Through statistics gathered by different agencies, we can not only count the number of people dying by suicide but look into the reasons. First, of the 66% who attempt suicide, 80% had a priorly known mental health condition.

In fact, adults with a mental illness are at an increased risk of attempting and completing suicide. For those who have more than one co-occurring disorder, there is a two-fold risk of suicide attempts that increases with the number of comorbid disorders. Indeed, more than 70% of adults who have attempted to die by suicide have an anxiety disorder, and adults with mood disorders or substance abuse disorders are also at a higher risk of contemplating or attempting suicide. (Nock et al., 2010).

Second, it is vital to note is that mental illness is not a necessary condition for someone to die by suicide, although it is strongly associated with it. Sometimes people who have had no diagnosis of a mental health issue choose to die by suicide, although the statistics for this statement are not available (Nepon et al., 2010).

COVID 19 and Suicide

There are multiple lines of evidence to show that the coronavirus pandemic has had and will have profound effects on mental health. The facts are that the legacy of the COVID 19 pandemic will have far-reaching effects influencing suicide for many years to come.

There have been studies that indicate that the COVID19 pandemic is significantly associated with heightened distress, fear, insomnia, and depression not only among the general population but also in the front-line medical workers. Front-line medical workers are faced daily with those who have contracted COVID 19 and, because they are human, feel the grief and sorrow of losing a patient to the disease. They feel helpless when confronted with a disease they cannot cure or treat appropriately.

Add social isolation, economic uncertainty, recent racial tensions, and political upheaval to the mix, and you have a soup of possible mental health consequences, including suicide.

Preventing Suicide

According to the Centers for Disease Control in the United States, from 1999 through the year 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate increased by 24%. With the advent of COVID 19, these appalling statistics are expected to rise dramatically.

However, there is hope.

In the past decade, groundbreaking and influential treatments for suicidal individuals have been found to work at decreasing the number of deaths by suicide. We can accomplish this decrease in death rates by following some simple and some not so easy three steps.

Step One: End the Stigma. Our society has created a field of shame that surrounds getting and receiving help from a mental health professional. Yet, getting help is the number one method for preventing suicide. The shame and guilt that society places on people who have attempted to die by suicide are ridiculous. People who have made attempts on their lives need love and compassion, not anger and blame.

Too often, people who are suicidal fail to reach out for help because of the shame they might bring to their families or friends. Loved ones of someone who is experiencing despair and suicidal ideations are often reluctant to bring up the subject of suicide for fear of putting suicidal thoughts into the minds of those they love. This misconception closes off one of the most considerable means of preventing someone from dying by suicide, talking about their problems.

Our society needs to end this unjust treatment of those who have a mental health condition and/or feel suicidal. We must educate ourselves on the warning signs and get in touch with assistance ourselves, so we feel empowered to end the stigma surrounding suicide.

Step Two: Learn the Warning Signs. There are many warning signs to watch out for in your loved ones and friends. Common signs such as isolating or having a loved one perceive themselves as a burden can cause a suicidal person to withdraw so that you will be less inclined to notice they are suicidal.

Don’t be afraid to ask your loved one or friend questions about how they are doing listening intently to the words they choose. Please do not allow them to blow you off with a nonchalant answer and watch for the following common signals. According to the American Association of Suicidality, the signs you should watch for include:

  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Pulling away from friends and family
  • Isolating
  • Self-hating thoughts or words
  • Saying they feel like they don’t belong
  • Hopelessness
  • Rage
  • Irritability
  • Feeling trapped
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Feeling that they are a burden to others
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Expressing the thought that “nothing matters.”
  • Giving up on themselves
  • Risky behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, actions
  • Sudden mood changes for the better

All of the signs above have one thing in common; you must be aware of them and watching your friend or family member to notice them. Once you notice something, ask important questions of them, such as, “I notice you are having a rough time right now. Are you suicidal?” Starting a conversation can save a life.

Remember, it is not only adults who can become suicidal and act on those thoughts. Children and adolescents, too, are at risk.

Step Three: Know Where to Turn. When someone is suicidal or knows someone exhibiting signs of suicidal ideation, they need to turn to experts for help.

The first line of defense is your family doctor. Tell them that you are concerned about your loved one or yourself and be honest about suicidal ideations. Your physician will get you the help you need right away, sometimes resorting to entering you into the hospital for observation. While going to the hospital is not ideal, doing so will keep you or your loved one alive while the doctors attempt medications to decrease the anxiety or depression that is causing the problem.

Your second line of defense are organizations that can help.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Call or Chat Online).

This resource is available 24/7 at the following number:

1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

Contact them whenever you feel worried about yourself or others who may be contemplating dying by suicide.

Crisis Text Line.

In the age we live in, more and more people are opting to text instead of talking on the phone.

The Crisis Text Line is available 24/7, and you can reach them by

texting “GO” to 741741.

Ending on an Upbeat Note

Writing and reading articles on the topic of suicide has been challenging in September. However, this month is National Suicide Awareness Month, and we felt it necessary to acknowledge it.

Reading about children and suicide has been incredibly difficult.

However, there is hope for those who are plagued by suicidal ideation and those who love them. Never, ever give up hope. Yes, these days are dark, and you feel overwhelmed, but dying by suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary situation.

Please, don’t become a statistic on someone’s chart. Reach out for help and be honest with yourself and those around you. Life is an adventure, not something to put up with until you die. Pay attention to the beauty that is all around you every day. Even in your darkest hour, the beauty of the sky or nature makes living worth it. Start a gratitude journal and list all the things for which you are grateful. If you must, begin very simply by asking yourself questions such as, “Can I see? Can I walk? Can I hear” because there are many who cannot do these things, we take for granted.

“I live to enjoy life by the littlest things, feeling the grass between my toes, breathing fresh air, watching the wind sway the trees, enjoying the company of loved ones, a deep conversation, getting lost in a good book, going for a walk in nature, watching my kids grow up. Just the feeling itself of being alive, the absolutely amazing fact that we are here right now, breathing, thinking, doing.” ~ Marigold Wellington

References

American Association of Suicidality. Warning signs of acute suicide risk. Retrieved from http://suicidology.org/resources/warning-signs/

Nepon, J., Belik, S., Bolton, J., & Sareen, J. (2010). “The relationship between anxiety disorders and suicide attempts: Findings from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.” Depression and Anxiety, 27, 791–798. DOI:10.1002/da.20674.

Nock, M.K., Hwang, I., Sampson, N.A., & Kessler, R.C. (2010). “Mental disorders, comorbidity, and suicidal behavior: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.” Molecular Psychiatry, 15(8), 868-876.

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