Following the holidays, some of us experience episodes of depression from which some recover faster than others. Sometimes, in extreme situations, that holiday depression results in suicide, but thoughts of suicide can happen any time of the year. For example, prior to the holidays, a well-known local community leader tried to take his life.
Suicide is a complex and growing problem among our youth and elderly. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death. Other statistics: males are four times more likely to die from suicide, with rates being the highest among Caucasians; women report attempting suicide during their lifetime about three times as often as men; suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24 years; and suicide rates increase with age and are very high among those 65 and older.
The first step in preventing suicide is to identify and understand the risk factors: history of alcohol and substance abuse; family history of suicide; family history of child maltreatment; feelings of hopelessness; impulsive or aggressive tendencies; barriers to accessing mental health treatment; loss (relational, social, work, or financial); physical illness; easy access to lethal methods; unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health disorders or suicidal thoughts; cultural and religious beliefs (for instance, the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma); local epidemics of suicide; and isolation.
Every suicide involves distinct reasons, but there are usually warning signs one may observe. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the National Mental Health Association say warning signs to look for include unusual personality changes; lack of interest in things they used to enjoy; changes in eating and/or sleeping habits; withdrawal from family and friends; absences from school or work; decrease in performance at school or work; changes in personal hygiene; a strong sense of guilt, shame, or emptiness; obsessions with death; giving away belongings, including pets; and strange or unusual behavior.
We know a majority of suicidal patients present to their hospital emergency department or health care provider shortly before a suicide attempt; therefore, it’s essential that we as health care providers seek to recognize and treat these individuals to prevent a future attempt.
Suicide threats should never be ignored. A person who’s threatening suicide is, at the very least, thinking about it. So, if you think a family member, colleague, or friend is suicidal, take him or her to the nearest hospital emergency department where there are professionals on-site who can address this situation or who are on call and can be readily available. IBI