According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates in the United States have increased 25% since 1999, affecting people of all sexes, ages, races, and ethnic groups.
Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. There’s no one cause for this public health crisis, although economic difficulties, limited access to healthcare services, the opioid epidemic, and increased social isolation may play a part.
When it comes to preventing suicide, education is key. Mental health is a topic many people are reluctant to discuss due to stigma. However, encouraging everyone to be more open about depression and substance abuse can save lives.
Warning Signs of Suicide
Signs a loved one might be thinking about suicide include:
- An intense interest in knives, guns, and other weapons
- Withdrawing from personal relationships
- Saying goodbye to loved ones
- Giving away valuable possessions
- Making comments that indicate self-loathing
- Having dramatic mood swings
- Talking about death and dying
- Engaging in reckless behavior with no regard for personal safety
Although many suicide attempts are preceded by multiple warning signs, it’s important to note that there are a number of cases where someone dies as the result of suicide and friends or family report no warning signs. This is often true of people who’ve experienced a recent personal crisis, are naturally very reserved when it comes to talking about their feelings, and have a demonstrated history of previous mental health issues.
How Substance Abuse Increases the Risk of Suicide
Drug or alcohol abuse can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts in people who are struggling with depression. Substance abuse can:
- Interfere with the effectiveness of antidepressant medication
- Strain relationships with friends and family
- Create feelings of hopelessness
- Impair judgment and problem-solving skills
- Cause financial stress when money needed for living expenses is being used to buy drugs or alcohol
- Lead to trouble with performance at work or school
How to Help
If you suspect a friend or family member is contemplating suicide, it’s important to speak up about your concerns. Initiating an honest, non-judgmental conversation may very well save your loved one’s life.
When you believe someone is in immediate danger of making a suicide attempt, call 911 or transport him or her directly to the nearest emergency room. Under no circumstances should you leave someone who is actively contemplating self-harm alone or in an area with access to weapons of any kind.
If you don’t believe your loved one is experiencing an immediate crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). This number is answered 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. Free, confidential assistance is provided for people struggling with suicidal thoughts and those who are worried about their loved ones. A counselor will ask for details about your situation before connecting you to resources in your area.
If your loved one suffers from addiction, please note that working a recovery program can act as a preventative measure against self-harm. When judgement is not impaired by substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders are being properly addressed, the risk of suicidal behavior decreases significantly.