Suicide in a Time of Unrest.
We’re Facing a Mental Health Crisis That’s Costing Lives.
The statistics are staggering – approximately 800,000 people die by suicide in the world each year. That’s nearly one death every 40 seconds. Suicide has become the 2nd leading cause of death for those 15 to 24 years old. Every year, many more people think about or attempt suicide than die by suicide. The rate of suicide in the U.S. has increased 35% since 1999. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 10.7 million American adults seriously contemplated suicide in 2018, 3.3 million made a plan for suicide and 1.4 million attempted suicide.
Additionally, suicides have been shown to increase in connection with major crises. In recent years, rising suicide rates have contributed to a falling life expectancy in the U.S. While it’s not clear exactly why the rate has climbed, health experts say they believe isolation and strained family relationships, as well as alcohol and substance misuse are contributing risk factors to what is being labeled a national epidemic. A global pandemic, political unrest, the state of race relations, financial instability and job loss all add to stressors that can contribute to suicidal ideation.
We’re All at Risk.
Suicide doesn’t have a single cause. There are many different reasons why someone would consider suicide. Risk factors are characteristics or conditions that increase the chance a person may try to take their life. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide. Unfortunately, it often goes undiagnosed and untreated.
“You may not have been a person who has struggled with mental health issues previously, but COVID-19 has certainly challenged all of us. And for those who have already experienced anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, they are lacking social connectedness more so than ever,” explained Aileen Brady, Community Alliance Chief Operating Officer.
Health Risks and Contributing Factors
- Serious physical health conditions that involve pain
- Traumatic brain injury
- Any of the following mental health conditions:
- Aggressive behavior
- Mood disorders
- Toxic relationships
- Substance use problems
- Bipolar disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Anxiety disorders
Isolation Takes a Serious Toll.
Stressful experiences may contribute to or trigger suicide. Discrimination, isolation and relationship conflicts with family, friends and others can contribute to overwhelming and immediate stress. However, the connections we have can work as a protection factor when it comes to suicide risk.
“As human beings, we’re social people and we need a sense of community,” Brady continued to explain. “It’s something so many of us take for granted – meeting colleagues at work, attending church services as a congregation, meeting classmates at school, family get-togethers. All of these represent losses in peoples’ lives. This kind of isolation isn’t good for any of us. In fact, we’re seeing an increase in people using alcohol, a depressive, as a coping mechanism. Clients with mental health conditions may have had a substance use problem before, but the pandemic has only reinforced that.”
Stress can build up over a long time and lead to suicidal thoughts. Some people feel guilty for even thinking about suicide when they know they have people who care about them. This can sometimes make the feelings of despair even worse.
Contributing Environmental Risks
- Do they have access to lethal means including firearms and drugs?
- Have they experienced prolonged stress – including harassment, bullying, relationship problems or unemployment?
- Have they experienced a stressful life event – including rejection, failure, divorce, job loss, financial crisis?
- Have they experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide?
- Have they been exposed to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide?
Those who have attempted suicide before are at a higher risk to try again. And those who have a history of self-harming are also at a higher risk of suicide.
- Have they attempted suicide before?
- Is there a family history of suicide?
- Have they experienced childhood abuse, neglect or trauma?
Here’s How We Support Clients at Risk.
Early on, when people began to be isolated at home, Community Alliance made phone calls and established telehealth service, but they also put together activity packets that were both fun and educational. The staff went out in the community and dropped off the packets, and they were very well received. Beyond that, they stressed staying safely connected.
“Since the beginning of isolation, we advised our clients to get outside. Take a walk. There is something to be said for nature therapy,” Brady related. “I rarely use the words social distancing, I use the words physical distancing. Let’s not socially distance. Let’s stay socially connected in any way we can. Take all the precautions, wear the mask, stay 6 feet apart – but don’t socially isolate.”
Here’s How You Can Help.
If you think that someone is feeling suicidal, the best thing you can do is to respectfully and empathetically encourage them to talk about how they are feeling. Talking to someone about their suicidal thoughts does not make them more likely to end their life. You may not know exactly what to say. It may feel like an awkward and uncomfortable conversation.
“Always trust your gut. You may be the only one who is noticing that someone is withdrawing or making some direct statements about taking their life,” Brady offered. “We want to encourage everyone to be okay with having those difficult conversations, because you may be the only one that’s noticed. And you may be the only one to speak up.”
Here’s how you can help:
- Encourage the person to talk. Demonstrate that you care.
- Recognize their fear and sadness and ask them about it. Ask if they are thinking of hurting themselves or taking their own life, and if they have a plan.
- Listen attentively and show that you are taking their concerns seriously.
- Offer reassurance, but don’t be dismissive about their problems.
- Make sure they don’t have access to medications or any type of weapon.
- Stay with the person if they are at high risk of suicide.
- Offer to provide support and seek professional help.
Never leave a suicidal person alone, unless you are concerned for your own safety.
When someone is in crisis, take action.
Call emergency services – 911, or go to your local hospital emergency department.
If you are struggling, Community Alliance can help. We offer supportive services that include psychiatric care, counseling, rehabilitation, recovery services and more.
Suicide Prevention Resources:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – www.afsp.org
Suicide Loss Survivor Resources: