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Understanding Suicide/Getting Help

When I first wrote this, our little valley was struggling to understand the sudden tragic death of a much loved prominent member of our community -- the much loved county sheriff --  who took his own life. He had smiled the last time I had talked with him, seemed gregarious as we talked motorcycles and horses. 

Yet his internal demons were torturing him. A few weeks later and he was gone.

With the recent suicides of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, we are reminded that suicide can strike without warning, and regardless of external things like success and popularity.  

Nearly a million people take their own lives every year and in most countries, the incidence of suicide is higher than that of homicide, according to statistics collected by the World Health Organization.  More people are lost each year to suicide than to war.  This year, for active duty military, suicide deaths are outpacing deaths from combat. 

Suicide is most often associated with depression, although that may be undiagnosed, and may or may not be combined with substance abuse. Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are four times more likely to succeed in killing themselves. This disparity is often attributed to the means by which men and women attempt suicide. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, risk factors include:

  • Depression and other mental health disorders or substance abuse problems. More than 90 percent of those who take their own life have these risk factors. 
  • Prior suicide attempt
  • Family history of mental health problems, suicide or substance abuse
  • family violence
  • firearms in the home - more than half of all suicides involve a gun.
    "However, suicide and suicidal behavior are not normal responses to stress; many people have these risk factors, but are not suicidal, according to the NIMH. "Research also shows that the risk for suicide is associated with changes in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Decreased levels of serotonin have been found in people with depression, impulsive disorders, and a history of suicide attempts, and in the brains of suicide victims. "

    The last few weeks have also been high acuity for mental health patients in the Emergency Department. Although research has shown that rates of suicide are low in the winter months and higher in the spring and summer months. Rates also vary with changes in the weather. Such statistics aside, it should be noted that we need to be watching for warning signs all year round. 

    According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, here are some of the things to watch for:
    • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.
    • Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun
    • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
    • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
    • Talking about being a burden to others.
    • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
    • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
    • Sleeping too little or too much.
    • Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
    • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
    • Displaying extreme mood swings.
    • The risk of suicide is greater if these behaviors are new, increasing, or related to a recent painful event, loss or change on one's life. 
    If you or someone close to you exhibits these signs, get help as soon as possible by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

    NIMH's website adds the following:
     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. Eliminate access to firearms or other potential tools for suicide, including unsupervised access to medications.
    Of course, sometimes the signs are subtle or we miss them. Sometimes you do everything right and still can't stop someone you love from taking their own life. Feelings of guilt and second guessing combine with the grief and loss for an often overpowering tidal wave of emotions for those left behind. The Mayo Clinic has good information HERE on understand and coping with the tragedy of suicide when it hits close to home.
    Our hearts go out to those in the valley this morning. I hope this information helps. 
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