Suicide: Understanding and Prevention

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Suicide has been in the news quite a bit lately, from the controversial Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” to the shocking death of Chris Cornell, who reminded all of us that specter of depression and the impulse to take one’s life is not something that fades with age, success, admiration, or progress. Suicide has touched us all in some form, and even though it’s not pleasant to talk about, there are factors that tend to increase risk of suicide. Knowing these can help us prevent others from making this decision, and if you recognize these issues in yourself, it is a sign that it is time to seek help.

First, let’s start with why people commit suicide. There are a lot of reasons, from mental health issues to trauma to alienation to specific life events, but suicide boils down to a person being in so much pain that death seems preferable to continued existence. People who contemplate suicide do not think, “I can’t wait to be dead, everything will be so much better then.” No, it’s about being in so much pain that living no longer feels like a valid option. Think about the worst physical pain you’ve ever had-a toothache, broken bone, childbirth, migraine, kidney stone, etc- and what you would have done just to make that pain stop, if only temporarily. People who attempt or commit suicide are trying to escape excruciating pain, even if the people around them can’t see it and don’t understand.

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What should you be on the lookout for? About 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental health issue at the time of their death. Depression is the most common comorbid factor, but bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, substance abuse, as well as anxiety and other anxiety-based disorders like PTSD can also contribute. Does this mean everyone with a mental health disorder will attempt suicide? Absolutely not. But if you feel like someone you care about may be suicidal, it helps to understand what may put them at greater risk.

Aside from mental illness, other factors contribute to suicidality. Previous suicide attempts are a major indicator, and a family history of suicide also increases risk. A history of abuse or trauma increases the risk of suicide. Life events such as incarceration, being diagnosed with a serious medical condition, chronic physical pain, and even financial insecurity, low job stability, and poor job satisfaction can increase the risk of suicide. In teens, being bullied or otherwise ostracized from peer groups is a major contributing factor to suicide. The rate of suicide attempts is four times as high in LGBTQ+ teens than among their straight peers. Again, not everybody who experiences these conditions will attempt suicide, but if you know the factors that can put yourself and others at risk, it can make it possible to intervene appropriately.

If you are worried that someone you know might be contemplating suicide, there are specific behaviors you can look out for. They may talk about feeling hopeless or like they have no reason to continue living. They may make a will or begin to give away possessions that are important to them. People who are suicidal may look for means to do personal harm, like someone who previously showed no interest in firearms may ask you how to buy a gun or might inquire about your sleeping pills. They may engage in reckless behaviors or conversely withdraw from social interactions. They may start to sleep and eat too much, or too little. They may show excessive signs of agitation or talk about revenge more than you think is healthy.

If you think someone you know might be contemplating suicide, there are several ways to help. First and foremost, IT IS OKAY TO ASK. If you are genuinely concerned, you can ask with compassion and no judgment, “Are you thinking about committing suicide?” Asking this question will not put an idea in their head. If they are, and the threat is immediate, you may need to call 911. You can encourage them to call the Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255). You can also suggest counseling and let them know that people do care and the world will not be the same without them, even if they don’t believe it.

And if you feel like you are on the verge of suicide, please call the Suicide Hotline or call us at 843-501-1099. We know your pain is real, and your place in this world is important.

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