Warning Signs of Suicide

This is not a complete list of suicidal behaviors. Please get help immediately if you suspect that you, a family member, or friend may be suicidal. Remember, it is better to seek help and not need it than it is to not seek help and regret your decision later on. 

 

  • talks about suicide

  • depression 

  • withdrawal from family and friends

  • feelings of isolation, hopelessness and rejection

  • obsessive or morbid fascination with death, dying, violent movies or music

  • feelings that life isn’t worth living

  • starting to take a lot of naps or experiencing other kinds of sleep disturbances

  • changes in appetite – noticeable weight loss or weight gain

  • sudden mood or behavior changes such as “I used to be quiet and now I am hyperactive," or “once I was outgoing and now I’m withdrawn”

  • poor self image, loss of self-esteem

  • excessive feelings of guilt

  • “cleans house” by giving away prized possessions

  • heavy involvement with alcohol or other drugs

  • reckless, dangerous behaviors

  • poor concentration

National Statistics
(Figures from the National Center for Health Statistics for the year 2005)  

    

General 

  • Over 32,000 people in the United States die by suicide every year. 

  • In 2005 (latest available data), there were 32,637 reported suicide deaths. 

  • Suicide is fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years in the U.S., with approximately 26,500 suicides. 

  • Currently, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. 

  • A person dies by suicide about every 16 minutes in the United States. An attempt is estimated to be made once every minute. 

  • Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. 

  • There are four male suicides for every female suicide, but twice as many females as males attempt suicide. 

  • Every day, approximately 80 Americans take their own life, and 1,500 more attempt to do so. 
     

Youth

  • Suicide is the fifth leading cause of death among those 5-14 years old. 

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among those 15-24 years old. 

  • Between the mid-1950s and the late 1970s, the suicide rate among U.S. males aged 15-24 more than tripled (from 6.3 per 100,000 in 1955 to 21.3 in 1977). Among females aged 15-24, the rate more than doubled during this period (from 2.0 to 5.2). The youth suicide rate generally leveled off during the 1980s and early 1990s, and since the mid-1990s has been steadily decreasing. 

  • Among young people aged 10-14 years, the rate has doubled in the last two decades. 

  • Between 1980-1996, the suicide rate for African-American males aged 15-19 has also doubled. 

  • Risk factors for suicide among the young include suicidal thoughts, psychiatric disorders (such as depression, impulsive aggressive behavior, bipolar disorder, certain anxiety disorders), drug and/or alcohol abuse and previous suicide attempts, with the risk increased if there is situational stress and access to firearms. 
     

Older People 

  • The suicide rates for men rise with age, most significantly after age 65. 

  • The rate of suicide in men 65+ is seven times that of females who are 65+. 

  • The suicide rates for women peak between the ages of 45-54 years old, and again after age 75. 

  • About 60 percent of elderly patients who take their own lives see their primary care physician within a few months of their death. 

  • Six to 9 percent of older Americans who are in a primary care setting suffer from major depression. 

  • More than 30 percent of patients suffering from major depression report suicidal ideation. 

  • Risk factors for suicide among the elderly include: a previous attempt, the presence of a mental illness, the presence of a physical illness, social isolation (some studies have shown this is especially so in older males who are recently widowed) and access to means, such as the availability of firearms in the home. 
     

Depression 

  • Over 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent. 

  • Depression affects nearly 10 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year, or more than 19 million people. 

  • More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease (12 million), cancer (10 million) and HIV/AIDS (1 million). 

  • About 15 percent of the population will suffer from clinical depression at some time during their lifetime. Thirty percent of all clinically depressed patients attempt suicide; half of them ultimately die by suicide. 

  • Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. But first, depression has to be recognized. 
     

Alcohol and Suicide 

  • Ninety-six percent of alcoholics who die by suicide continue their substance abuse up to the end of their lives. 

  • Alcoholism is a factor in about 30 percent of all completed suicides. 

  • Approximately 7 percent of those with alcohol dependence will die by suicide. 
     

Firearms and Suicide 

  • Although most gun owners reportedly keep a firearm in their home for "protection" or "self defense," 83 percent of gun-related deaths in these homes are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun owner. 

  • Firearms are used in more suicides than homicides. 

  • Death by firearms is the fastest growing method of suicide. 

  • Firearms account for 52 percent of all suicides.  
     

Medical Illness and Suicide

  • Patients who desire an early death during a serious or terminal illness are usually suffering from a treatable depressive condition. 

  • People with AIDS have a suicide risk up to 20 times that of the general population.
     

What are some risk factors for nonfatal suicide attempts? 

  • As noted, an estimated eight to 25 nonfatal suicide attempts occur per every suicide death. Men and the elderly are more likely to have fatal attempts than are women and youth. 

  • Risk factors for nonfatal suicide attempts by adults include depression and other mental disorders, alcohol abuse, cocaine use, and separation or divorce. 

  • Risk factors for attempted suicide by youth include depression, alcohol or other drug-use disorder, physical or sexual abuse, and disruptive behavior. 

  • Most suicide attempts are expressions of extreme distress, not harmless bids for attention. A person who appears suicidal should not be left alone and needs immediate mental-health treatment. 
     

What can be done to prevent suicide?

Research helps determine which factors can be modified to help prevent suicide and which interventions are appropriate for specific groups of people. Before being put into practice, prevention programs should be tested through research to determine their safety and effectiveness. For example, because research has shown that mental and substance-abuse disorders are major risk factors for suicide, many programs also focus on treating these disorders.

 

Studies showed that a type of psychotherapy called cognitive therapy reduced the rate of repeated suicide attempts by 50 percent during a year of follow-up. A previous suicide attempt is among the strongest predictors of subsequent suicide, and cognitive therapy helps suicide attempters consider alternative actions when thoughts of self-harm arise.

 

Specific kinds of psychotherapy may be helpful for specific groups of people. For example, a recent study showed that a treatment called dialectical behavior therapy reduced suicide attempts by half, compared with other kinds of therapy, in people with borderline personality disorder (a serious disorder of emotion regulation).

 

The medication clozapine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for suicide prevention in people with schizophrenia. Other promising medications and psychosocial treatments for suicidal people are being tested.

 

Since research shows that older adults and women who die by suicide are likely to have seen a primary care provider in the year before death, improving primary-care providers ability to recognize and treat risk factors may help prevent suicide among these groups. Improving outreach to men at risk is a major challenge in need of investigation.

 

What should I do if I think someone is suicidal?

If you think someone is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get the person to seek immediate help from his or her doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room, or call 911, or call  (703)777-0320 (24 hour emergency crisis line linked to Loudoun County Mental Health Services). Eliminate access to firearms or other potential tools for suicide, including unsupervised access to medications.

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