The following article addresses the topics of suicide and death openly. Please do not read this if you are triggered by these types of conversations. Take care and reach out for help if you need it.
If you have thoughts of suicide, please seek immediate health care. Go to your nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You matter. The world needs you.
On average, someone in the world dies by suicide every 40 seconds. This adds up to about 800,000 deaths from suicide each year. Despite the prevalence of suicide throughout the world, it’s something that so many people have trouble talking about.
If we as a society want to lower that number, we need to talk about this issue openly and with compassion. In order to do that, we all need to learn more about suicide.
Suicide Definitions and Vocabulary
If you’re not used to candidly talking about suicide, there may be some terms you’re not yet familiar with. Knowing these definitions and preferences can ensure that you can accurately spread awareness about suicide prevention.
- What is Suicide?: The term “suicide” describes a death that is the result of self-injurious actions. A death is only considered a suicide if the person intended to die.
- Suicide Attempt: When a person causes self-injury with the intent of dying, but the injury is not fatal, this action is considered a suicide attempt.
- Suicidal Ideation: When someone thinks about suicide or makes plans to die by suicide, doctors refer to these thoughts as suicidal ideation. There are different types of suicidal ideation, ranging from intrusive thoughts to a thought-out plan of action. All suicidal ideation should be treated seriously.
Committed Suicide vs. Died by Suicide
In the past, many people have said that a person “committed suicide” when they have died in this way. Today, mental health activists suggest changing this term to “died by suicide.” The difference may seem insignificant at first, but it can make a big difference to people affected by suicide.
Outside of the topic of suicide, people use the word “commit” to refer to crimes and other choices that people make. Someone commits a felony or commits to making a change. Suicide is not a choice.
Instead, suicide is the mechanism by which some mental health conditions cause death. Saying “died by suicide” recognizes that the person did not choose to die. Think of it in terms of a heart attack. A person does not commit a heart attack, but they may die from heart failure.
Suicide By The Numbers
The first step in learning about suicide and stopping it is understanding how prevalent the issue is. It’s understandable that anyone would want to avoid thinking about this topic or just say it would never happen to one of their loved ones. Looking at the numbers allows people to understand the enormity of the problem.
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death of people aged 10 to 35.
- Approximately 48,000 people in the United States die by suicide each year.
- The country experiences an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts annually.
Who Is Most At Risk for Suicide?
Anyone can die by suicide, no matter their race, economic status, gender, or any other demographic. However, some people have a higher risk of dying by suicide than others. The following risk factors increase a person’s likelihood of dying by suicide:
- Abusing alcohol or other substances
- Having a history of previous suicide attempts
- Knowing someone who died by suicide (further increased if the person is a family member)
- Having easy access to lethal means, including firearms
- Lacking access to quality mental health care
- Being unemployed
- Going through a divorce
- Grieving the death of a loved one
- Struggling with serious financial or legal problems
Suffering from certain types of trauma and social isolation can also increase a person’s risk of dying by suicide. For example, people from Native tribes have been found to have higher rates of suicide due to the trauma they have faced. People in the LGBTQIA community have higher rates of suicide when they are rejected by family or bullied by others.
Warning Signs of Suicide
Some people who think about suicide reach out for help as soon as they recognize the symptoms, but this is not the norm. Many people who have thoughts of suicide suffer in silence until someone reaches out. Your loved one may be showing warning signs of suicide if they:
- Talk about dying or search for ways to die
- Express feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Talk about emotional pain that is unbearable
- Abuse drugs or alcohol
- Suddenly start sleeping too much or barely at all
- Behave recklessly
- Stop planning for the future
- Have extreme, sudden mood swings
- Believe they are a burden
- Talk about seeking revenge
If someone expresses that they want to die or search for means of dying, consider this an emergency. Get the person away from anything that they could use to hurt themselves, then seek immediate medical care.
Measures That Reduce Suicide Rates
Just as there are many factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of dying by suicide, there are also several factors that make this outcome less likely. These are called protective factors and include:
- Connection to family, friends, and the larger community
- Healthy coping mechanisms and social support
- Cultural or religious beliefs that forbid suicide
- Healthy self-esteem
- A sense of purpose for their life
- High-quality mental health care
While it is difficult to talk about suicide, it is absolutely vital. By bringing this issue to light, we can raise awareness and possibly save lives.