Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States. If self-poisoning is included, it ranks as the eighth-leading cause of death, totaling more than 65,000 victims each year.
While many think suicide is most prevalent during the holidays, the highest rates of suicide are actually during the spring, peaking in April. However, as the holidays can be a difficult time for many, it’s best to know what symptoms and preventive measures you can take if you suspect a loved one is contemplating suicide.
More than 90 percent of suicides are associated with a psychiatric diagnosis such as depression, bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traumatic brain injury and other brain disorders, including stroke, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, also increase vulnerability to suicide.
The highest suicide rates are in those 45-64 years old, followed by those who are 85 and older. Others who might be at risk are men; Caucasians, Native Americans, Alaska Natives; and those with a family history of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse. Be alert for recent life stressors like divorce, the death of a loved one or job loss.
Serious or chronic health problems, chronic pain, a history of child abuse, neglect or bullying can also be additional risk factors. Keep in mind that access to guns greatly heightens suicide – more than 50 percent of suicides in the United States involve firearms.
To help prevent suicide, recognize the most common warning signs:
▪ Expressing suicide intent or being a burden to others.
▪ Exhibiting behavior changes, including isolation, altered sleep and giving away possessions.
▪ Searching online for methods to commit suicide.
If you suspect a loved one is at risk, create obstacles to lethal means by restricting access to guns or un-prescribed medications, and have them seek medical treatment. For more information about suicide prevention, visit www.afsp.org. Or for immediate help, call Helpline Miami at (305) 358-HELP.
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. To learn more, visit umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry.