The suicide rate in the United States continues to climb — to 44,000 in 2015, making it the 10th leading cause of death. It is the second leading cause of death in those 44 years of age and under, and the fifth leading cause of death in the 25 to 44 age group. It is the only top 10 cause of death that is increasing annually.
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More than one million Americans attempt suicide annually, and one American dies by suicide every 12.3 minutes. The suicide rate in Florida is above the national average. The outlook appears bleak for several other reasons as well: the shortage of psychiatrists — the second greatest area of need in all of medicine; the reluctance of many patients to seek out mental health services; the ready availability of firearms (the No. 1 method of suicide); and the difficulty of reimbursement for mental health services by third-party payers (i.e. a lack of parity with other medical services).
However, there is actually much to be encouraged by. First, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, The Jed Foundation, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) all have large public relations programs to increase awareness of suicide and its prevention nationwide.
For example, the public service announcement entitled “Seize the Awkward,” being rolled out by the Ad Council, is a remarkable video directed at teens and young adults on the importance of recognizing signs of depression and suicide in friends, family, and colleagues.
Second, research is edging ever closer to being able to identify who is truly at risk for suicide. This will likely include genetic testing and brain imaging studies. Third, treatment interventions, both psychological and medication, have shown real promise in reducing suicides. The former, for example, is an emergency room intervention and follow-up of suicidal patients, and the latter includes promising new medications such as ketamine and related compounds.
Lastly, placing obstacles in the way of planned suicide, such as the barriers being erected on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, clearly works in reducing suicide risk.
As with all disorders, by understanding the causes and risk factors, we can reduce this tragic loss of life.
Charles Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., is a psychiatrist and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami Health System. To learn more, visit umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry, or to make an appointment call 305-355-9028.