By Inua A. Momodu, MD, MPH
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 1.3 million Americans attempted suicide in 2013 – a heartbreakingly large number.
The idea of losing a loved one to suicide is terrifying, and it may seem easier to ignore a potential problem than to confront it head on. But knowing what to look for is important in helping address a situation before it becomes a tragedy. Here are some common misconceptions about suicide:
Myth: Confronting a person about suicide will only make them angry and increase the risk of suicide. Fact: Asking someone directly about suicidal intent lowers anxiety, opens up communication, and lowers the risk of an impulsive act.
Myth: Only experts can prevent suicide. Fact: Suicide prevention is everybody’s business. Anyone can help prevent the tragedy of suicide.
Myth: Those who talk about suicide don’t do it. Fact: People who talk about suicide may attempt or even complete an act of self-destruction.
Myth: Once a person decides to complete suicide, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them. Fact: Suicide is preventable. Your positive action could save the life of someone you love.
Learning to recognize symptoms of suicidal behavior will help you identify when a loved one might be at risk, and give you the opportunity to intervene. Some of these signs include:
- Making threats to hurt or kill him- or herself.
- Looking for access to firearms, pills, or other means of self-harm.
- Abnormal interest in or talking about death.
- Increased substance abuse.
Suicidal people may feel or express:
- A lack of sense of purpose.
- Anxiety, hopelessness, withdrawal or other dramatic mood changes.
- That others would be better off if he or she weren’t there.
- Angry and impulsive.
- That their death would hurt someone, and the desire to cause someone else pain.
While suicide doesn’t discriminate – people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic statuses can be at risk – risk of suicide increases with certain circumstances. Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have an untreated mental illness – often depression. Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; family history of suicide and family history of mental health disorders may also increase risk.
People who experience prolonged harassment, bullying, relationship problems, financial problems or unemployment, or those who have stressful life changes, such as trauma, great personal loss, or childhood abuse are also at higher risk. If you notice that a friend or family member is struggling with any of these circumstances, encourage him or her to get help. Similarly, if you suspect that your loved one might be suicidal, talk to him or her. Tell him or her that you have noticed unusual behaviors and that you are concerned. Expressing concern about suicidal behavior will show that you care. Tell your loved one that you will support him or her in getting help – and seek appropriate medical attention.
- For a crisis or a life-or-death situation, call 911.
- AtlantiCare Behavioral Health offers child and adult behavioral health services. Call the ABH Access Center at 609-646-9159 to schedule an appointment.
- For assessment or support, call AtlantiCare’s Psychiatric Intervention Program, which serves as the Crisis Center for Atlantic County: 609-344-1118.
- The National Suicide Prevention Hotline offers telephone help: 1-800-273-8255.
Suicide is preventable. If you know what to look for and where to turn, there is help and there is hope.
Inua A. Momodu, MD, MPH, is chairman, Department of Psychiatry, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center.