According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, rates of suicide are increasing significantly. In 2012, the suicide rate was 12.6 per 100,000 Americans, a level not seen since 1987. In 2013, a total of 41,149 individuals committed suicide, or one person every 12.8 minutes. The greatest increase occurred in those between the ages of 45 and 64. In 2000, the rate for that group was 13.5 suicides per 100,000 people, increasing to 19.1 in 2013, the latest year for which information is available.
Far more men commit suicide than women. In 2013, there were 20.2 suicides per 100,000 men, compared with 5.1 for women. Suicide is more common in white men, who accounted for 70 percent of suicides in 2013. Women make more suicide attempts, but men’s attempts are four times as likely to be successful.
Firearms are used to commit suicide 52.5 percent of the time. Suffocation, usually by hanging, is the cause 24.5 percent of the time. And 16.1 percent die from poisoning.
According to a report just issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people now die from suicide than motor vehicle accidents. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in America. This report also emphasized that suicide rates are increasing sharply.
To truly understand suicide’s seriousness, you must also consider the number of people attempting suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, accurate statistics of attempts are not available. In 2013, there were 494,169 admissions to hospitals for suicide attempts. Many more were treated and not deemed to warrant hospitalization.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine attempted to determine whether increasing suicide rates are being caused by the recent economic downturn. Researchers examined information from the National Violent Death Reporting System and noted that suicides caused by employment/financial problems, legal difficulties or difficulty in school increased from 32.9 percent in 2005 to 37.5 percent in 2010.
When suicide is related to economic factors, suffocation is the most common method used. The researchers noted that deaths by this method between 2005 and 2010 increased by 18 percent among 15- to 39-year-olds, by 59.5 percent among those between the ages of 40 and 64 and by 27.2 percent among those 65 or older. It has been estimated than 1 in 5 suicides are related to unemployment.
Clearly, we must all be aware of the potential of suicide, particularly among those who have lost their jobs or homes, have declared bankruptcy or are overwhelmed by mounting debt.
Sadly, many of the warning signs of imminent attempted suicide are taken too lightly or ignored. Always be aware that a sense of hopelessness related to work or debt is a major risk factor for suicide. Risk is particularly high in those who have attempted suicide in the past or have a strong family history of suicide.
Most suicide victims are significantly depressed. They frequently talk about death or killing themselves, and they may have no appetite, lose weight or occasionally eat too much. They voice feelings of hopelessness, saying they would be better off dead than alive.
Often when someone decides to take his own life, a sense of calm develops; he will get his affairs in order and may change or write a will. Sometimes suicidal people call friends and family to say hello and goodbye.
It is always important that people’s depression and talk of suicide be taken very seriously. Ask whether they are considering harming themselves. Unfortunately, telling them that they have so many blessings and so much to live for is never sufficient. Serious thoughts of harming oneself, whatever the reason, must be considered a serious disease, and immediate help is essential.
If they wish to seek help, make sure a mental health professional sees them quickly. A primary care physician can recognize risk of suicide and arrange an appropriate referral. And anyone considering taking his or her own life should immediately be hospitalized.
It is always better to be safe than sorry. If there is imminent danger, go together to an emergency room or call 911. And finally, there are local and national suicide hotlines. Do not hesitate to call them. Examples are 800-SUICIDE and 800-273-TALK. There is also a hotline for the hearing-impaired at 800-799-4889..
Dr. David Lipschitz is the director of the Dr. David Health and Wellness Center in Little Rock. To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz, visit www.drdavidhealth.com