As it happens, I am writing this article on a subject near to my heart—suicide prevention. This month is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and suicide touches many people around us, possibly even you.
I wanted to use this platform to raise awareness that many people, even in your groups and families, suffer silently in depression. The signs do not always show outwardly, so people are shocked, devastated, and off guard when it happens to someone they know and love.
There are so many stories where the ones left behind will say, “I didn’t know, I wasn’t aware, I couldn’t tell, they seemed fine and happy.” What causes a person to want to leave behind everything for the unknown? That is only an answer that they can give, and unfortunately, when they’re gone, they are gone, and there is no one to answer the question, Why?
I want to give you information that might help someone recognize the signs, symptoms, or even help those going through their emotions.
Here are some real statistics about suicide, and I quote:
- Suicide is ranked as the tenth leading cause of death in the United States among people of all ages.
- Over 41,000 suicides occurred in the country during the last year in which the CDC has comprehensive statistical data.
- Roughly 113 suicides occur across the country each day.
- On average, a suicide occurs in the United States every 13 minutes.
- The suicide rate in the USA is 12.6 deaths per 100,000 citizens.
- Suicides result in a combined total of medical and work-related financial losses of over $50 billion annually.
Suicide and Mind-Altering Substances
Over 50 percent of all people who commit suicide have some mind-altering substance in their systems:
- Alcohol – 33%
- Opiates – 20%
The data regarding opiate use among individuals who take their own lives is a few years old. The CDC believes the percentage of people with opiates in their systems that commit suicide has likely risen significantly in the past two to three years. In some cases, the opiates associated with a suicide victim have appropriately prescribed medications (pain killers). More often than not, opiates were obtained illegally and included heroin. In other cases, the opiates are obtained legally but abused by the user.
Gender and Suicide
There are marked differences between genders when it comes to suicide.
- Men represent nearly 80% of all suicides in the United States.
- Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death for men, the fourteenth for women.
- Women are more likely to have suicidal thoughts.
- Firearms are the most common suicide method for men at 57% of all cases.
- Poisoning is the most common suicide method for women at 35% of all cases.
Suicidal Thoughts and Nonfatal Suicidal Behavior
According to the CDC, people over the age of 18 have a higher percentage of contemplating or attempting suicide in any given year.
- Approximately 9.3 million adults report having suicidal thoughts during a year.
- Over 7% of adults between the ages of 18 to 25 reported having suicidal thoughts.
- 4% of adults between 26 and 49 reported having suicidal thoughts.
- Approximately 3% of adults over the age of 50 have also reported having suicidal thoughts.
Keep in mind that these statistics are likely lower than the actual count. These statistics represent individuals who self-report suicidal thoughts. Due to social stigma, embarrassment, and shame, many individuals probably fail to respond with honest answers when questioned about suicidal thoughts.
Approximately 1.5 million people over the age of 18 attempt suicide annually.
Among high school students, the rate of individuals contemplating suicide is higher than that associated with adults:
- 17% of high school students seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months.
- 22% percent of girls and 12 percent of boys contemplate suicide each year.
- Nearly 14% of high school students went so far as to formulate a plan to commit suicide.
- 8% percent of high school students made a suicide attempt in the past year.
- Nearly 3% of these suicide attempts resulted in an injury to the young person that required medical attention.
As with adults, suicide ideation and attempts are under-reported among high schoolers for various reasons.
Hospitals treat 494,169 people for self-inflicted injuries in all age categories, including hospitalization and those treated in emergency departments and released.
Suicide is preventable, but you have to be the one to stop it. Like all things, there are always myths around the subject of suicide to include:
- It’s dangerous to ask a depressed person whether they’re considering suicide.
- People who want to die will always find away.
- People take their own life “out of the blue.”
- Most suicides happen around the winter holiday season.
- Another myth is, when someone recovers after hitting rock bottom, their risk of committing suicide declines.
- Giving someone a hotline number to call is enough.
What are the risk factors that are involved?
- Mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, and especially an untreated mental illness.
- Being seriously ill, living with a chronic or long term illness, or dealing with long-term pain.
- Having a substance use disorder.
- Suffering from a traumatic brain injury.
- Stressful life situations, especially those that are prolonged, including bullying or relationship problems.
- Sudden stressful or traumatic situations like the loss of a loved one.
- Having experienced childhood trauma and abuse.
- Having access to lethal means.
- Being exposed to another person’s suicide.
- Past Suicide Attempts.
- A family history of suicide.
What are the easy to see warning signs?
- Talking about dying or wanting to die.
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no way out of problems.
- Mentioning strong feelings of guilt and shame.
- Talking about not having a reason to live or that others would be better off without them.
- Social withdrawal and isolation.
- Giving away personal items and wrapping up loose ends.
- Saying goodbye to family and friends.
What are the less obvious warning signs of suicide?
- Watch for any unusual changes in behavior that seem unrelated to depression or hopelessness.
- Changes in sleeping patterns. Such as sleeping more often than usual, struggling to get out of bed at all. Or they may experience insomnia.
- Accessing lethal means, such as telling you they bought a gun or stockpiling pills without anyone noticing.
- There is Emotional distancing by detaching from their life in general. They are distancing themselves from other people and a decrease in their typical activities.
- Physical pain and discomfort are often not seen as depression symptoms, such as often complaining of any pain like headaches, digestive upset, general body pain without any physical reason such as not having any prior injuries or a history of things migraines.
What can you do to help someone who might be considering suicide?
Get professional help, like with a counselor, a therapist; if there is an immediate threat, call 911. You can be there for that person, talk to them, and sometimes just listening to them is what they need. But do not let the person pull you into their downward spiral. As stated before, the best thing is to get them professional help, someone qualified and educated in how to handle these situations. Always know, you are never alone; reach out to someone; there is no reason to have to carry the burden alone. Here at SL Coast Guard, we are a family, and we also care for each other. We have Chaplains in the SL Coast guard who can talk to you if you need it. I know that RDML Idoru Kiyori, who is the SL Coast Guard Chaplain is a Chaplain in real life, and she will not mind you reaching out to her.
Just speak. The first step to help is to tell someone.
I know this is a deep subject. I know that suicide and depression has touched many of your lives in different ways. Never feel ashamed, never feel like you have to do this on your own, and know that you are never alone.
This is your roving reporter, Asa Darkbyrd, signing off,
I hope that your life is touched by beauty and compassion in every way possible.
Until next time,
PO1 Asa Darkbyrd,
SL Coast Guard Magazine
This is the link to the Veterans Crisis Line