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June 21, 2012 at 2:06 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Open Up About Suicide! It Could Save a Life

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

It’s happened again in my community…another suicide.

No matter the circumstances, suicide leaves those touched with a wrenching set of emotions. These emotions, in addition to grief, span the gamut of anger, regret, guilt, inadequacy and shame. As a healthcare provider, I consistently feel that we are not doing enough in the community to raise awareness. Concern hits an intense pitch after a suicide and then quickly wanes until tragedy strikes again in an all too short span. 

This blog will offer a frank discussion on suicide in hopes of spreading awareness and improving the track record in society’s struggle with this misfortune.

Changing the Language of Suicide

To start, the language and mindset of suicide needs to be set straight. People don’t “commit” suicide, but rather die by suicide. People may commit crimes or commit sins. Further, there is never a “successful” suicide—there are only “completed” suicides.

Suicide Statistics - The Numbers

Unfortunately, the common view of suicide is that of a tragic consequence for individuals, not as a major health problem plaguing society.

  • 1.1  Million - The number of American adults that attempt suicide each year.
  • 36,000 - The number of Americans that complete suicide each year.
  • 8th - The place suicide holds among the most common causes of death.
  • 3 to 2 - How suicide out-numbers homicide.
  • 90% - The percentage of people who die by suicide that have a mental disease (possibly undiagnosed.)
  • 30% - The percentage of completed suicides that involve alcohol intoxication above the legal limit.
  • 20% - the percentage of complete suicides involving veterans. In the past year, more soldiers died by suicide than in Afghanistan.

Shedding Light on Common Suicide Myths

MYTH: Suicide happens spontaneously or without warning. 
TRUTH: Actually, eight out of ten who complete suicide give some sort of warning.  This may be overt or subtle.

MYTH: People who talk about suicide are just looking for attention.
TRUTH: Actually, over 70% of those who complete suicide has previously threatened to do so.  When someone says they have suicidal thoughts, take them seriously.

MYTH: Suicidal people are intent on dying and there is nothing we can do. 
TRUTH: In fact, most people who are suicidal have two mindsets: one side wants to die and one does not.  Mostly, people want to stop their pain.  Offering hope can bring the focus to the more positive mindset.

MYTH: People who attempt suicide are unlikely to try again. 
TRUTH: Actually, 80% of people who die from suicide have made at least one prior attempt.

MYTH: If you mention or ask about suicide in someone who is depressed, you may put the idea in their head. 
TRUTH: This is a dangerous misconception that may cause one to miss an opportunity.  Discussing it openly can only help.

The Barriers to Dealing with Suicide - What's Holding Us Back?

Suicide has taken a back seat to other social problems like child abuse and domestic violence.  While the other issues are important, each deserves attention and recognition from society and its public, organizational and government factions. The complicating issue is that a definite stigma shrouds suicide and mental health problems. As such, people contemplating suicide and family members may be reluctant to seek help. 

Professionals and members of the community may be apprehensive about a proactive stance against suicide. These behaviors are evident in community programs such as schools and churches that do not bring up the issue.

The excuse, “We do not want to put the idea in peoples’ heads,” is not valid. 

While the data is not there regarding suicide, it’s there for another taboo - sex.  Talking about sex directly and frankly improves rates of unwanted outcomes. Sweeping suicide under the rug risks tragic consequences. Addressing the issue won't fill someone’s head with ideas that lead to unwanted actions.

Risks/Signs Someone May Be Considering Suicide

As a friend, family member or acquaintance, it's important to recognize suicide risks and signs. Proactively ask and offer a listening ear to those in high risk categories:

  • Someone with mental illness
  • Someone in the military
  • Someone with a high-stress occupation (police, dentist, doctor)
  • Someone experiencing loss (financial or personal)
  • Someone with chonic pain
  • Someone with past emotional trauma

An emotional check-up could address hidden pain and save a life! People who are considering suicide often exhibit warning signs. Talking about death or suicide with comments like, “I wish I were dead,” or, “Who cares if I’m dead,” should be taken seriously. Be attuned to expressions that life has no meaning. People at risk may isolate themselves, neglect health/hygiene or give away possessions.

How to React to Suicide Warning Signs

It's always better to be safe than sorry. Respond to warning signs, offering hope and letting them know you care about their situation. Ask difficult questions to affirm risk: “Are you thinking of killing yourself?  Do you have a plan?” Efforts should be directed at keeping the person safe. It is ok to call 911 if the situation warrants immediate attention! Emergency rooms are well-versed in helping initiate treatment for people at risk.

Personnel are available 24/7 at the national suicide hotline by calling 1-800-273 TALK (8255).

Suicide is a largely preventable, fatal healthcare problem. Public awareness can raise attention to cues that may save lives. By reading this information, you have begun your part which may someday help a loved one. If you have thoughts of suicide, know that there is help toward a better solution and it begins by talking to someone and opening up about your pain and struggles.

I have closed out past blogs with “Live, and live well.”  A different take, here, is appropriate.


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