World Mental Health Day is October 10, 2019, and is a day to raise awareness regarding mental health around the world. This year’s theme is focused on suicide prevention. Approximately 800,000 individuals take their own lives each year by suicide, and more than twice this number attempt suicide. Suicide affects individuals from all walks of life, regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, profession, social status, or race. The main risk factors for suicide are:
- A prior suicide attempt
- Depression and other mental health disorders
- Substance abuse disorder
- Family history of a mental health or substance abuse disorder
- Family history of suicide
- Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
- Having guns or other firearms in the home
- Being in prison or jail
- Being exposed to others’ suicidal behavior, such as a family member, peer, or media figure
- Medical illness
- Being between the ages of 15 and 24 years or over age 60
Who is affected by suicide?
Suicide affects everyone directly or indirectly through family, friends, or coworkers. Although men are more likely to die by suicide, women are more likely to attempt suicide. The difference is that men more commonly use firearms, whereas women more commonly attempt suicide by poisoning, which is deemed less effective. Although every demographic is affect by suicide, specific demographic subgroups are at higher risk. For example, American Indian and Alaska Native youth and middle-aged individuals have the highest rate of suicide, followed by Caucasian middle-aged and older adult males. The exception to this is younger children. African American children under the age of 12 have a higher rate of suicide than Caucasian children. This information is vital to understanding and pushing for more suicide prevention initiatives.
How are mental health disorders linked to suicide?
Individuals with mental health disorders are more prone to suicidal ideations and attempts, especially those who are undiagnosed or untreated. Depression, substance abuse, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and disorders with psychosis are all considered high risk for suicide.
Can talking about suicide, increase someone’s chance of committing suicide?
Asking someone about suicide is not harmful. There is a common myth that asking individuals about suicide can put the idea into their heads. This is not true. Several studies examining this concern have demonstrated that asking people about suicidal thoughts and behavior does not induce or increase such feelings and experiences. Asking someone directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself,” can be the best way to identify someone at risk for suicide.
What are the warning signs associated with suicide?
- Aggressive behavior
- Verbal outbursts
- Withdrawal from friends
- Writing or talking about suicide
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
- Talking about great guilt or shame
- Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
- Feeling unbearable pain, both physical or emotional
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Dramatic mood swings
- Reckless behavior
- Refusal to engage in daily responsibilities
- Giving away personal items of worth such as jewelry or furniture
What can you do if you notice suicidal behavior on social media?
Social media can be a massive platform for individuals to share their feelings about mental health and suicide. Some individuals may even post their suicidal ideations on social media. These threats should always be taken seriously, and even if you do not know the individual personally, it is still important to take action. If you see messages or behavior on social media posts regarding suicidal behavioral, then immediately call 911 and/or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you want to report suicidal content after you have reached 911 or the hotline, below is a list of the social media platforms and how to say this behavior or find resources on how to help:
- Facebook Suicide Prevention webpage can be found at facebook.com/help[use the search term “suicide” or “suicide prevention”].
- Instagram uses automated tools in the app to provide resources, which can also be found online at https://help.instagram.com[use the search term, “suicide,” self-injury,” or “suicide prevention”]
- Snapchat’s Support provides guidance at https://support.snapchat.com [use the search term, “suicide” or “suicide prevention”]
- Tumblr Counseling and Prevention Resources webpage can be found at https://tumblr.zendesk.com[use the search term “counseling” or “prevention,” then click on “Counseling and prevention resources”].
- Twitter’s Best Practices in Dealing With Self-Harm and Suicide at https://support.twitter.com[use the search term “suicide,” “self-harm,” or “suicide prevention”].
- YouTube’s Safety Center webpage can be found at https://support.google.com/youtube [use the search term “suicide and self-injury”].
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a clinical content writer and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine. She is a family medicine physician and author, who also teaches and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies within educating the public on preventable diseases, including mental health disorders and the stigma associated with them. She is also an outdoor activist and spends most of her free time empowering other women to get outside into the backcountry.