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July 2011
Suicide

Suicide or suicidal tendencies involve thinking about taking one’s own life, making an attempt to take one’s own life, or completing suicide. In many countries around the world there has been a substantial increase in suicide rates over the last several decades. In a number of countries, suicide is one of the top causes of death in nearly every age category. People commit suicide using a variety of methods, but the most common ones are use of a gun, suffocation, or taking an excessive amount of a medication or use of a poison. The factors that increase the possibility of suicide include:

  • Prior suicide attempts, whether they appear serious or not
  • Individual or family history of mental disorder, alcoholism, or drug abuse
  • Family history of an individual committing suicide
  • Either personal or family history of physical, sexual, or severe emotional abuse 
  • Significant psychological loss which may involve the loss of a loved one or work
  • Significant physical illness
  • Presence of strong impulsive or aggressive tendencies in the individual
  • Significant stress from family, financial, work, or environmental issues

The mental disorder most commonly associated with risk of suicide is depression. Especially when a person with depression has their condition complicated by alcohol or drug abuse, the risk is increased.  

Some of the warning signs for someone contemplating suicide or at risk for suicide include:

  • Appearing sad most of the time
  • Talking or writing about death or suicide
  • Withdrawing from usual relationships or social activities
  • Strong and persistent feelings of being hopeless or helpless
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Worsening school or work performance
  • Feeling excessive guilt, shame, or self-blame
  • Significant changes in eating or sleeping
  • Significant changes in mood

Many of these warning signs are associated with a depressive state, but may appear in an individual who is not diagnosed with depression. If a person is suicidal, it is considered an emergency or crisis situation and immediate help should be obtained. Many individuals are afraid that if they ask a family member or friend if they are thinking about committing suicide, it will make the individual more likely to commit suicide. In fact, the opposite is true, and a number of research studies have shown that individuals who ultimately commit suicide have told someone about it in the six weeks before they have taken the action.  

Friends or family members should seek professional assistance if they are concerned about suicide because they are not trained in the professional techniques necessary to accurately assess the risk of suicide or to take the steps needed to keep the individual safe. While help is being sought, it may be important that the person contemplating suicide does not have easy access to any weapons or other items which could be used to commit suicide. Taking an individual to the hospital or contacting a 24 hour crisis line, if available, is the best way to get help. Once in a safe clinical treatment situation, a trained mental health professional can evaluate the suicidal individual, and decide on the best course of treatment.

Treatment may involve admission to a hospital or, if the risk for suicide is determined to be only modest, other treatment programs outside the hospital. Risk for acting on suicidal thinking is significantly increased when alcohol or other drug use occurs, and treatment for these conditions is often important in the early phases to help decrease the likelihood that an individual will act on their suicidal thoughts.  

Suicidal thinking is not a normal response to stress, and it is, in most cultures, uncommon that an individual may simply just be trying to get attention by threatening or talking about suicide. Family and friends cannot be in a position to make this determination, so every precaution should be taken to obtain immediate professional assistance for the individual. With proper treatment, the persistence of suicidal thinking is uncommon, and the risk that the individual will act on suicide can be substantially diminished. 

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