What should you do if someone tells you they are thinking about suicide?
If someone tells you they are thinking about suicide, you should take their distress seriously, listen nonjudgmentally, and help them get to a professional for depression evaluation and treatment. People consider suicide when they are hopeless and unable to see alternative solutions to problems. Suicidal behavior is most often related to a mental disorder (depression) or to alcohol or other substance abuse. Suicidal behavior is also more likely to occur when people experience stressful events (major losses, incarceration). If someone is in imminent danger of harming himself or herself, do not leave the person alone. You may need to take emergency steps to get help, such as calling 911. When someone is in a suicidal crisis, it is important to limit access to firearms or other lethal means of committing suicide.
What are the most common methods of suicide?
Firearms are the most commonly used method of suicide for men and women, accounting for 60 percent of all suicides. Nearly 80 percent of all firearm suicides are committed by white males. The second most common method for men is hanging; for women, the second most common method is self-poisoning including drug overdose. The presence of a firearm in the home has been found to be an independent, additional risk factor for suicide. Thus, when a family member or health care provider is faced with an individual at risk for suicide, they should make sure that firearms are removed from the home.
Why do men complete suicide more often than women do?
More than four times as many men as women die by suicide; but women attempt suicide more often during their lives than do men, and women report higher rates of depression. Several explanations have been offered: a) Completed suicide is associated with aggressive behavior that is more common in men, and which may in turn be related to some of the biological differences identified in suicidality. b) Men and women use different suicide methods. Women in all countries are more likely to ingest poisons than men. In countries where the poisons are highly lethal and/or where treatment resources scarce, rescue is rare and hence female suicides outnumber males. More research is needed on the social-cultural factors that may protect women from completing suicide, and how to encourage men to recognize and seek treatment for their distress, instead of resorting to suicide.
Who is at highest risk for suicide in the U.S.?
There is a common perception that suicide rates are highest among the young. However, it is the elderly, particularly older white males that have the highest rates. And among white males 65 and older, risk goes up with age. White men 85 and older have a suicide rate that is six times that of the overall national rate. Why are rates so high for this group? White males are more deliberate in their suicide intentions; they use more lethal methods (firearms), and are less likely to talk about their plans. It may also be that older persons are less likely to survive attempts because they are less likely to recuperate. Over 70 percent of older suicide victims have been to their primary care physician within the month of their death, many with a depressive illness that was not detected. This has led to research efforts to determine how to best improve physicians' abilities to detect and treat depression in older adults.
Do school-based suicide awareness programs prevent youth suicide?
Despite good intentions and extensive efforts to develop suicide awareness and prevention programs for youth in schools, few programs have been evaluated to see if they work. Many of these programs are designed to reduce the stigma of talking about suicide and encourage distressed youth to seek help. Of the programs that were evaluated, none has proven to be effective. In fact, some programs have had unintended negative effects by making at-risk youth more distressed and less likely to seek help. By describing suicide and its risk factors, some curricula may have the unintended effect of suggesting that suicide is an option for many young people who have some of the risk factors and in that sense "normalize" it—just the opposite message intended. Prevention efforts must be carefully planned, implemented and scientifically tested. Because of the tremendous effort and cost involved in starting and maintaining programs, we should be certain that they are safe and effective before they are further used or promoted.
There are number of prevention approaches that are less likely to have negative effects, and have broader positive outcomes in addition to reducing suicide. One approach is to promote overall mental health among school-aged children by reducing early risk factors for depression, substance abuse and aggressive behaviors. In addition to the potential for saving lives, many more youth benefit from overall enhancement of academic performance and reduction in peer and family conflict. A second approach is to detect youth most likely to be suicidal by confidentially screening for depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation. If a youth reports any of these, further evaluation of the youth takes place by professionals, followed by referral for treatment as needed. Adequate treatment of mental disorder among youth, whether they are suicidal or not, has important academic, peer and family relationship benefits.
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