The issue of suicide is a very difficult and concerning topic to address – and, unfortunately, it is on the rise. In fact, a recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows suicide rates increasing by 25 percent over nearly two decades through the end of 2016. Data from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention further underscores the importance and urgency of raising awareness of suicide, as suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. – with nearly 45,000 Americans taking their own lives each year.
Recent suicide deaths of prominent fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrated chef and author Anthony Bourdain have exposed the critical fact that suicide does not discriminate and shined a brighter light on the role that mental illness plays in suicide. Approximately 90 percent of individuals who die from suicide suffer or have suffered from some form of mental illness.
Given this, it is critically important to be proactive about recognizing the warning signs of someone who may be contemplating suicide and identifying friends and loved ones who may be at risk. According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), the most recognizable signs of potential suicide are:
Threats or comments about killing themselves, which can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like, “I wish I wasn’t here” but become more bold and dangerous;
Increased alcohol and drug use;
Social withdrawal from friends, loved ones and the community;
Dramatic mood swings;
Talking, writing or thinking about death; and
Impulsive or reckless behavior.
While risk factors can vary, there are some commonalities among suicide victims, including:
A family history of suicide;
Access to firearms;
Serious or chronic medical illness;
Gender (more women attempt suicide than men, but men are four times more likely to die from their attempt);
A history of trauma or abuse;
Age (those younger than 24 years old and older than 65 years old are at higher risk);
A recent tragedy or loss;
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, any other form of mental illness or any of these signs and risk factors, it’s okay to seek help. There are behavioral health providers who can help whenever you need them. And the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, offers free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week.