Suicide Awareness and Prevention

By Cari Guthrie

Someone in this country dies by suicide every 12 minutes. The national suicide rate has increased to 13.93 suicide deaths per 100,000 in 2019 and for ages 10 to 35 only unintentional injuries account for more deaths. In general, suicide is now the 10th most frequent cause of death in the country. The suicide rate by race has American Indians with the highest rate followed by whites. Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics are almost tied for third. Men far exceed women in all areas for completed suicides. The COVID pandemic has impacted these numbers, particularly for adolescents. Emergency room visits for suicide attempts by adolescent girls were 51% higher in early 2021 than in early 2019, and 4% higher for boys.

The US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivik Murthy, shared information in December 2021, that worldwide, symptoms of anxiety and depression doubled during the pandemic, but mental health issues were already increasing in the United States before COVID-19. For example, ER visits due to depression, anxiety and similar conditions rose 28% between 2011 and 2015, the report found. “Young people are bombarded with messages through the media and popular culture that erode their sense of self-worth — telling them they are not good-looking enough, popular enough, smart enough or rich enough,” Murthy wrote. “That comes as progress on legitimate, and distressing, issues like climate change, income inequality, racial injustice, the opioid epidemic and gun violence feels too slow.” In fact, Bonnie Nagel, a pediatric neuropsychologist at Oregon Health & Science University who treats and studies teens, said that online interactions do not seem to satisfy core needs for connection. And recent research from her and her colleagues found that the feeling of loneliness is a key predictor for depression and suicidal ideation.

Do you know that most suicides are preventable as most victims tell someone they plan to hurt themselves before they act? In more than half of the cases examined over two decades, “someone knew of the prior suicidal ideation before it happened.” We know through research that reaching out can save a life. There is no single cause for suicide. Mental health conditions — often undiagnosed or untreated — play a critical role with other risk factors and life stressors to temporarily overwhelm a person’s ability to cope and increase their risk for suicide. We also know that there are warning signs that all of us can learn to identify and support one another. What would you do if a coworker, friend or family member acted recklessly or angrily, engaged in risky behavior or suddenly increased their alcohol use? Would you pull them aside or assume it is none of your business?

Recognizing the risk factors can save lives. Some are overt; someone threatening to kill or hurt him or herself, or seeking access to guns, pills, or other lethal means. Some are less obvious, as suicidal people may talk or write about death or dying. They may project hopelessness, rage, anger, or that they feel trapped. Some are anxious or agitated; some may increase their use of alcohol or drugs. They often withdraw from family, or have dramatic changes in mood. Suicide is not chosen; it happens when psychological pain exceeds one’s resources for coping with pain. We need to know more, and we need to use what we know.

That is why we believe all of us need to know what to look for and, like with the Heimlich maneuver, or CPR, know what to do when someone is in distress. People of all ages should be trained through educational initiatives in our schools, workplaces and communities that not only raise the public’s awareness but enable us to help people at risk. There are effective programs like Mental Health First Aid, to know how to recognize when someone is struggling, to believe that it is acceptable to offer support, and to be confident acting on that support to refer people to professional help.

Cornerstone Montgomery has trained Mental Health First Aid facilitators who can train you, your community and colleagues, to know what to look for and what to do when you see risk factors. This can save lives – Please click on the Mental Health First Aid link on our website to find out how you can sign up for a class and make a difference!