The numbers are staggering.
In 2014 — the latest year for which we have accurate figures — there were 42,773 reported suicides in the United States. Currently, there are approximately 120 suicides a day and a substantial number of these are military veterans.
Suicide is the only top 10 cause of death in the United States that is increasing each year, and we know that a substantial number of other deaths, including opiate overdoses and motor vehicle accidents, are also suicides.
For every suicide, there are 25 suicide attempts. Almost 500,000 people a year visit an emergency room to seek care after a suicide attempt. And those numbers don’t tell the whole picture — we know that most suicide attempts are unreported.
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These and other suicide statistics have raised a red flag for physicians around the nation. But to curb this growing trend, the community needs to have a better understanding of suicide — its causes, symptoms and prevention.
Firearms account for half of all suicides, with another quarter due to suffocation. Although men account for 70 percent of all suicides, women attempt suicide three times more often. White men, particularly the elderly, exhibit the highest suicide rate, with Native Americans also exhibiting high rates. African Americans and Hispanics show lower but not insignificant suicide rates.
Risk factors for suicide include major psychiatric disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance and alcohol abuse. Other contributing factors are a family history of suicide and recent severe stressful life events like loss of employment or romantic disappointments.
Teen suicide is another growing concern, now the second-leading cause of death in 10- to 24-year-olds. In grades nine to 12, approximately 17 percent of students seriously considered suicide in the last year, with girls more likely to contemplate suicide. And 13.6 percent of high school students actually developed a suicide plan, with almost one in 10 attempting to take their own life.
Most teens who commit suicide suffer with depression or bipolar disorder. Early warning signs include suicide-oriented tweets or text messages, preoccupation with death, previous attempts and recent drastic changes in behavior such as withdrawal from usual activities, school absences, etc.
Educating teens to recognize these symptoms in their peers is important, but all of us need to be attentive to the warning signs of suicide. Listen to friends and family, and if you hear them talk of life being “not worth living,” see them giving away prized possessions or hear them express feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, get them help immediately. They need to be evaluated by a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse practitioner or social worker, who can step in to help and likely save the life of your loved one.
Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., is chief of psychiatry at UHealth - the University of Miami Health System, and professor and chairman of psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Visit umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry
For more information about suicide prevention, visit www.afsp.org. For immediate help, call Helpline Miami at 305-358-HELP.
Walk for Suicide Prevention
Out of the Darkness Community Walk at the University of Miami
Presented by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; Oct. 16; www.AFSP.org