September 5th-11th is National Suicide Prevention Week here in the United States. In recent years it has been advertised more heavily, though I still primarily see advertisements directed at mental health professionals rather than the general public. I find this odd because most mental health professionals have some knowledge of the signs and statistics while many people in the general public do not.
Suicide is an often taboo subject in our current culture. It is rare someone openly discusses this epidemic and I believe this leads to a reduction in people recognizing signs and seeking help. Most all of the clients I work with have a history of at least suicidal thoughts, if not suicide attempts. The reality is that talking about suicide is important.
- 41,149 people committed suicide in the United States during 2015.
- That is the same as someone committing suicide every 13 minutes.
- More than 500,000 people attempted suicide in 2015.
- The ratio of attempts to completed suicides is 10 to 1.
- 30-70% of people that commit suicide are diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder.
- 23.8% of people who commit suicide test positive for antidepressants.
- 33.4% of people who commit suicide test positive for alcohol.
- 20.0% of people who commit suicide test positive for opiates (heroin, prescription painkillers, cocaine, etc.).
One group that is particularly affected by suicide is the LGBT community. As an ally, I struggle with the immense difference between these groups. In comparison with heterosexuals, the difference for LGBT youth is staggering:
- Adolescents that are questioning their sexuality are twice as likely to attempt suicide.
- Adolescents that are lesbian, gay, or bisexual are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide.
- Adolescents from both aforementioned groups are 4-6 times more likely to require serious medical intervention following a suicide attempt.
- Almost half of transgendered youth have thought about suicide and 25% have attempted suicide.
- LGBT youth from unsupportive/rejecting families are 8.4% more likely to have attempted suicide in comparison to LGBT youth with supportive families.
- 16.7% of high school students (grades 9-12) have seriously considered suicide within the previous year.
- Each occurrence of LGBT victimization (harassment, bullying, assault, etc.) increases the chance of self-harm by an average of 2.5 times.
There are several things that make a person more likely to commit suicide and this list is in no way all-inclusive. This is a collection of common risk factors that increase a person’s likelihood of attempting or committing suicide.
- Substance abuse
- Mental health diagnosis
- Social isolation/rejection
- Lack of access to (effective) behavioral health
- Knowing someone who has committed suicide
- Access to lethal means (medication to overdose, firearms, knives, etc.)
- Previous suicide attempts
- Trauma history
- Sexual orientation or identity
When I was in high school, I read the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (affiliate link) and I have forever committed many warning signs of suicide to memory. This story is a fictional story about a girl that committed suicide that left cassette tapes for 13 people to explain her reasons for committing suicide. In this story, she details many of the warning signs of suicide and even says she exhibited them.
- Verbal threats or statements of suicide, such as “you would all be better off without me” or “maybe I just won’t be around anymore”
- Expressions or helplessness or hopelessness
- Previous suicide attempts
- Taking part in risk-taking behaviors
- Personality changes (such as a sudden change from depressed to joyful)
- Giving away prized possessions
- Lack of interest in future plans or events
How To Help
- Most importantly, educate yourself and be aware of warning signs.
- Many people who are considering suicide do not want to die. Often they are are seeking a means to end their hurt, not necessarily their lives.
- Know what resources are available and how to help the person get treatment, even if they are opposed. Most states have emergency custody laws to help keep people safe. If you have questions about this, contact your local police department’s non-emergency number.
Know what’s out there
There are several national suicide prevention hotlines that are available:
Hopeline: 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-442-4673
Hopeline Online Chat
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
National Suicide Prevention Online Chat
Trevor Lifeline (LGBT): 1-866-488-7386
The Trevor Project Alternative Options
Suicide.org’s State Guide
If you are concerned someone you know may be considering suicide:
- Don’t be dismissive. Trust your instincts because that person may be in trouble.
- Be open with the person about your concerns. Be sure to listen to what they say in response.
- Do not be judgmental or act shocked.
- Be direct with your questions but do not be judgmental. Find out if the person has a plan to commit suicide. The more detailed the plan is, the more likely they are to follow through.
- Get professional help, even if the person opposes. Do not counsel the person yourself.
- Do not leave the person alone.
- Do not swear to secrecy.
Be aware & care.