It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Each year approximately 44,193 Americans kill themselves. For each of these 25 more try to commit suicide but fail. Spaulding Grey, Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe, Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Cheyenne Brando, Alexander McQueen, Sylvia Plath, Don Cornelius, Whitney Huston, and a whole host of others who seemingly “had it all”— did themselves in.
Certain groups of people are at higher risk for suicide than others. They are:
· American Indians and Alaska Natives
· People bereaved by suicide
· People in justice and child welfare settings
· People who intentionally hurt themselves (non-suicidal self-injury)
· People who have previously attempted suicide
· People with medical conditions
· People with mental and/or substance use disorders
· People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender
· Members of the military and veterans
· Men in midlife and older men
Why do people resort to the ultimate act of giving up? There are a number of identified reasons. They are:
Major depression is the leading cause of suicide. 90% of people who kill themselves suffer from this crippling mood disorder.
Anxiety: When anxiety makes it hard to hold down jobs, maintain friendships, or finish school, anxiety can lead to suicide.
Bipolar Disorder: The fluctuations from mania to depression can make it hard for people to maintain relationships and a balanced life, leading them to make the fatal decision.
Schizophrenia: Some people suffering from this mental illness can have command, internal voices telling them to kill themselves.
BULLYING: By now it is widely documented that, especially in the age of the Internet, bullying can lead to young people tragically ending their own lives. Those in the LGBT community are especially at risk for bullying.
DRUG ADDICTION / SUBSTANCE ABUSE: Whether it’s the resulting depression, or the tendency to overdose, drug abuse has become pandemic in the culture with opioid and heroin addiction leading the charge toward suicide attempts and / or accidents.
UNEMPLOYMENT / FINANCIAL INSECURITY: I recently saw Bernie Sanders speak in Los Angeles. He noted that currently the top 1/10th of one percent of the U.S. population now has more wealth than the bottom 90 percent of people in America. As a result, in rural, impoverished areas only one business is doing well, funeral homes. There are so many more suicides each year due to economic insecurity morticians are having a hard time keeping up.
SOCIAL ISOLATION / LONELIENESS: Becoming isolated can lead a person into depression and begin considering suicide. We are social creatures and our mental health is largely based on being communal with others.
RELATIONSHIP ISSUES: People are so in need of relationships they may stay in abusive partnerships, join gangs, or sink into out of control depression when losing a life mate. Any of these can lead to the terrible choice of ending one’s own life.
GENETICS: Those with a history of suicide in their families have proven to be at higher risk. You may be wired for the family depression and be more likely to see suicide as an option (just like it was for dad, etc.)
PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: Ever seen those TV ads that say, “Caution, taking this drug may increase suicidal tendencies” (?) Whenever taking a prescribed drug (including anti-depressants) be sure to monitor your mood issues associated with it.
CRYING OUT FOR HELP: Some people are simply trying to alert others to their need for help. They typically choose methods they don’t think will end their lives. This person might swallow a bottle of Tylenol and wake up in the hospital with a severely damaged liver, but otherwise alive.
THEY MADE A “MISTAKE”: Oxygen deprivation is sometimes used recklessly to enhance sexual excitement—leading to death.
People choose suicide when they feel trapped, hopeless, helpless to change their circumstances, lost in an addiction, isolated, or otherwise out of control.
To prevent these tragic ends, we need to seek help at the first signs of suicidal ideation. If you are considering suicide it is virtually always a good idea to consult a doctor and get on medication while also beginning psychotherapy. If you are at high risk and living alone, a “suicide watch” can be established with a trusted therapist. Professionals,friends, and family members can be in constant contact through crisis periods.
Drug and alcohol counseling as well as a twelve-step program could be in order.
Suicide hotlines (800-854-7771, 211, or 800-273-8255 (TALK )) can be used to de-escalate a situation. If you are at risk it is essential to ask for help and stay out of isolation.
If someone is threatening suicide, acknowledge the danger and show concern. LISTEN. The threat becomes most real when the person has three active elements: a means or weapon to kill themselves, a plan to kill themselves, and a scheduled time. This person should be hospitalized until these elements are eliminated. Most hospitals have a PET (psychiatric evaluation team) that can be sent to a person’s home who is at risk for self-harm. Also, 911, or the police can intervene.
Most people who try to kill themselves regret the decision. Virtually all people who jumped from The Golden Gate Bridge and survived to tell the tale reported that they regretted the decision the moment their feet left the platform.
There are ways to get help, find connection, discover meaning, come to hope, change your problems, and realize the love you give and receive from others. I’ve dealt with many people contemplating suicide. Thankfully they’ve all concluded that it is not the answer. If its something you have ever thought of just know that its very common to think about it, that you can get help, and that there are people to listen. We need your gifts. You might one day be the answer to helping someone else standing on the fatal precipice.
Below Kevin Briggs talks about his experience as a police officer intervening in suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge: