by James Chester, MSBS
Administrator, Southwestern Behavioral Health Center
Suicide can be an emotionally difficult topic to acknowledge. It remains a complex issue that, despite its taboo nature, requires practical solutions. Nationally, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death; to further quantify this, approximately 45,000 U.S. citizens take their own lives on an annualized basis (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). What is additionally concerning is the fact suicide rates have risen by 25 percent, over the last 20 years.
High profile suicide deaths, such as in the case of author/chef Anthony Bourdain and renowned fashion designer Kate Spade, have brought into focus the reality mental illness can affect anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status and despite perceived levels of success. Psychiatric disorders, independent of class, are the predominant factor linking individuals who die from suicide.
The frequency, direction and breadth of these incidents underscores the critical importance of developing more robust education and strategies related to suicide awareness.
Warning Signs & Intervention
Communities have a collective responsibility in understanding the warning signs someone considering suicide might exhibit and knowing how to proactively intervene when individuals are identified as being at risk.
According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), the most prevalent signs of potential suicide are:
- Threats or comments about killing oneself, which can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like, “I wish I wasn’t here” but become more bold and dangerous
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Social withdrawal from friends, loved ones and the community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Talking, writing or thinking about death
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
While individuals may display any variety of risk factors, some of the common qualities among suicide victims tend to include:
- A family history of suicide
- Substance abuse
- Access to firearms
- Serious or chronic medical illness
- Gender (more women attempt suicide than men, but men are four times more likely to die from their attempt)
- A history of trauma or abuse
- Prolonged stress
- Age (those younger than 24 years old and older than 65 years old are at higher risk)
- A recent tragedy or loss
- Sleep deprivation
In a recent talk, Dr. Jordan Peterson, a Clinical Psychologist and a Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, offered the following practical considerations to those who might be wrestling with suicidal thoughts:
Number 1: “You’ll devastate the people you leave behind”
“Think about how everyone you know will react to your death: your family members, your friends. What would their life be like with you not in it?”
“You may just absolutely wipe them out in a way they may never recover from. You cannot fix someone’s suicide. You’re stuck with it.”
Dr. Peterson questioned: “What if they blame themselves? They could go their entire lives blaming themselves for not just any death, your death; the death of someone they love dearly.”
“I’ve had clients in my clinical practice that have never recovered from the suicide of a family member. Decades later they’re still torturing themselves about it. By ending your own life, you might just be ending someone else’s. You’ll simply be offloading the pain you’re experiencing to everyone you love.”
Number 2: “You owe it to yourself — and to your family — to look at every possible alternative.”
“There are all sorts of treatments for depression,” Dr. Peterson stated. “You owe it to yourself — and to your family — to look at every possible alternative.”
“Explore any possible avenue before you take a final step … explore everything you can explore to put yourself back on your feet. Talk to a psychologist. Talk to a therapist. Try antidepressants. Keep yourself busy. Adopt a puppy if you have to. Try literally anything.”
“For some people, antidepressants work. They don’t work for everyone. I’m not claiming they are a panacea, but they certainly beat…suicide.”
Number 3: “Don’t underestimate your value in the world”
The third reason suggested is that you’ll will never fully realize your potential. Dr. Peterson contends: “you have intrinsic value and you can’t just casually bring that to an end. You’ll put a hole in the fabric of being itself.”
“People with depression often struggle to find meaning in their lives. They don’t think anyone needs them or cares about them. This almost always isn’t true. Don’t underestimate your value in the world.”
“Just because you can’t see your potential, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Everyone has something to contribute, even if they don’t know it…you have things to do. The world needs you…”
Number 4: “Don’t be so sure your life is yours to take”
Lastly, Dr. Peterson challenges individuals to consider that their life doesn’t necessarily belong solely to them: “Don’t be so sure your life is yours to take. You don’t own yourself the way you own an object. If you’re religious, maybe your life belongs to a higher power. Or, if you’re not religious, maybe it belongs to your loved ones or some greater cause.”
Ultimately, Peterson asserts: “you have a moral obligation to yourself as a locus of divine value.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, any form of mental illness, or has any of these signs and risk factors, it’s important to seek professional help immediately by dialing 911. There are behavioral health providers who can assist whenever you need them.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, offers free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Southwestern Medical Center provides behavioral health support services, including inpatient care for children, adolescents and adults. The facility is staffed by a highly trained team of providers, nurses and support personnel. Click here to learn more about the services provided at Southwestern Behavioral Health Center or call 580-536-0077.