Between 1999 and 2017, the overall suicide rate in the United States increased 33 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 10 to 34, and the fourth leading cause of death in the 35-to-54 age group. Men account for 75 percent of those deaths.
"Men are at increased risk of dying by suicide, in part because they choose more lethal means," explains Jeffrey Devore, MSW, LMSW, ACSW, a clinical social worker at Henry Ford Health. "They're also more likely to suffer in silence and try to deal with problems themselves, or they end up self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, which creates another risk factor."
Who Is At Risk Of Dying By Suicide?
There's never a single cause of suicide. Multiple risk factors, including health, environmental and historical factors, come together when someone takes their own life. But the single greatest risk factor for dying by suicide is a family history.
"If your mother or father dies by suicide, your risk of dying by suicide goes up tenfold or more," says Devore. "That could result from a genetic predisposition toward depression, but family history also sends the message that suicide is an acceptable way out when you're struggling."
Other risk factors include:
- Being widowed, divorced or single
- Being a white male: This demographic accounts for about 70 percent of suicides in the U.S., according the CDC
- Lack of social support
- Unemployment or loss of a job
- A drop in socioeconomic status
- Access to firearms
- Having a psychiatric diagnosis: 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a psychiatric diagnosis
- Having a chronic disease, such as intractable migraines, cancer, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or diabetes
- Substance abuse
- Previous suicide attempt
- History of trauma
How To Recognize A Suicide Risk
The best thing you can do for anyone who is suffering is create opportunities for them to talk about what they're experiencing. Of course, that requires noticing that they're suffering.
"Isolation is a major red flag," Devore says. "If you notice a friend is socially withdrawing, or withdrawing from his usual activities, that's a key indicator that you should pay attention."
Similarly, if a loved one loses a job or experiences a divorce or death of a spouse, being aware of their emotional well-being should be a top priority. Break the ice by saying something like, "Anyone in your position would be struggling." Then ask probing questions: "Do you have a plan?" and "Can I make an appointment with a professional for you?"
If your friend or loved one displays any of the following signs, seek immediate help:
- Talking or joking about suicide, or making statements about being reunited with a lost loved one
- Making statements about hopelessness, helplessness or worthlessness
- Preoccupation with death
- Appearing suddenly happier or calmer
- Loss of interest in things one cares about
- Unusual visiting or calling people one cares about (saying goodbye)
- Giving possessions away, making arrangements or settling affairs
- Self-destructive or risk-taking behaviors
Suicide Prevention Guide
There is no easy solution for suicide prevention, but reducing the stigma associated with getting help can make a real difference. "The key is changing the culture for men that they have to be macho and strong — that they should always be in control of their emotions," Devore says.
Suicide is about despair. If you can restore hope for your loved one, you may help him sidestep suicide. Here are few do's and don'ts to consider.
- Be direct: "The idea that talking about suicide will lead to suicide is completely false," Devore says. "Instead, opening that dialogue can help lead someone toward getting the help they need."
- Remove firearms: In the United States, more than half of all suicide deaths are the result of firearms. Limiting access to means of death can help curb suicide completion rates.
- Take it seriously: If someone admits to suicidal thoughts, ask if they have a plan in place. If you feel the person is in immediate danger, do not leave the person alone. Call in support from family and friends until the person can see a professional or take him/her to the closest emergency room. If necessary, call 911 for transport.
- Make judgments: Don't make judgments about the feelings your loved one is sharing. Listen attentively and allow the person to express his feelings.
- Keep a suicide plan secret: If the person admits to having a suicide plan in place, get immediate help. Don't worry about breaking a bond of friendship. It's more important to save a life.
- Ignore a cry for help: Never try to minimize someone's problems by telling him he has everything to live for or how hurt his family will be. That will only increase feelings of guilt and despair. He needs to be reassured that there is help, that what he’s feeling is treatable and that his suicidal feelings are temporary.
If the person isn’t in immediate danger, try to empathize with them. Say things like, “I can see that you’re hurting,” and “I care about you and want to help you manage the pain.” Then follow through and help him make a plan. Schedule an appointment with his primary care provider, a counselor or therapist.
If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
Jeffrey Devore is a clinical social worker who sees patients at Henry Ford Behavioral Health - Clinton Township.