Suicide: A public health crisis

September 14, 2018, Pennsylvania State University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Each day in the United States, 123 people take their own lives. For each of those deaths, at least 25 more people attempt suicide.

The statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention support Dr. Ahmad Hameed's opinion that has become a public health crisis.

Hameed, a psychiatrist and vice chair for education in the Department of Psychiatry at Penn State Health, says the problem has become so big because the individuals with mental health disorders don't believe that there is any hope left.

"The majority of the time those who are suffering want to seek help and they want to live, but are ashamed to ask for help," he said.

About 90 to 95 percent of individuals who die by suicide have either a diagnosed or diagnosable . Although is the most well-known, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, , schizophrenia and drug or alcohol disorders are also related to a higher incidence of suicide.

Hameed said the vast majority of individuals who succeed at taking their own lives are men, often because they choose more lethal means than women. About 80 percent of the individuals who die by suicide are men. More than half of the suicides nationwide are completed with a firearm. Women often choose less lethal means like overdoses, where there is more of a chance for survival. "When the bullet leaves the barrel of a gun, there's no taking it back," he said.

Dr. Julie Radico, a clinical psychologist who teaches family medicine residents in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Penn State Health, said the residents engage in training to help them look for warning signs and red flags that could signal that someone is suicidal.

She said these front-line health care professionals are critical for prevention because statistics show many of those who die from suicide had seen a health care provider during their last month of life. "This could be in part because the providers had failed to ask about or detect it," she said.

Radico said a professional is six times more likely to learn if someone is suicidal by asking rather than waiting for the patient to bring up the subject. That's why Penn State Health family practice providers ask depression screening questions of every patient at every visit. Depending on the patient's answers, more detailed questions and a conversation follow.

"There is no research that shows that someone is at increased risk of suicide if you ask them about it," she said. "It's just that you are more likely to learn about it and be able to help them."

She said providers are trained to distinguish between passing thoughts of suicide—which are not uncommon—and suicidal thoughts that are persistent and intense. "The main three factors are whether they have the intent, a plan and the means to carry it out."

Health care providers can help patients come up with a safety plan which could include coping strategies, ways to avoid triggers, medication, visits to a therapist or counselor or social supports.

If someone is in immediate danger to him or herself or others, a call to a crisis hotline, local law enforcement or a visit to the emergency room might be merited depending on the situation.

Hameed said, "It's prudent not to wait."

Explore further: Older adults may need better follow-up after ER screenings for suicide

Related Stories

Older adults may need better follow-up after ER screenings for suicide

August 9, 2017
According to the World Health Organization, suicide rates for men over the age of 70 are higher than in any other group of people. In 2015, almost 8,000 older adults committed suicide in the U.S., and the proportion of suicides ...

How to ask someone you're worried about if they're thinking of suicide

July 25, 2018
Australia's leading mental health organisations have launched a new campaign – #YouCanTalk – to encourage Australians to ask people they're concerned about if they're thinking about taking their own life or have made ...

Know the warning signs of suicidal thoughts

September 12, 2016
(HealthDay)—Family, friends and acquaintances can play a key role in suicide prevention by being alert for signs and taking action to help someone who may be struggling, a mental health expert says.

People with opioid use disorder have high suicide rate

April 26, 2018
(HealthDay)—Patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) seem to have a high rate of suicide, according to a perspective piece published in the April 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Young people with chronic illness more likely to attempt suicide

August 17, 2017
Young people between the ages of 15 and 30 living with a chronic illness are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their healthy peers, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo.

Recommended for you

Older adults' abstract reasoning ability predicts depressive symptoms over time

November 14, 2018
Age-related declines in abstract reasoning ability predict increasing depressive symptoms in subsequent years, according to data from a longitudinal study of older adults in Scotland. The research is published in Psychological ...

New research has revealed we are actually better at remembering names than faces

November 14, 2018
With the Christmas party season fast approaching, there will be plenty of opportunity to re-live the familiar, and excruciatingly-awkward, social situation of not being able to remember an acquaintance's name.

The illusion of multitasking boosts performance

November 13, 2018
Our ability to do things well suffers when we try to complete several tasks at once, but a series of experiments suggests that merely believing that we're multitasking may boost our performance by making us more engaged in ...

Brain changes found in self-injuring teen girls

November 13, 2018
The brains of teenage girls who engage in serious forms of self-harm, including cutting, show features similar to those seen in adults with borderline personality disorder, a severe and hard-to-treat mental illness, a new ...

Major traumatic injury increases risk of mental health diagnoses, suicide

November 12, 2018
People who experience major injuries requiring hospital admission, such as car crashes and falls, are at substantially increased risk of being admitted to hospital for mental health disorders, found a study in CMAJ (Canadian ...

Nearly one in ten Americans struggles to control sexual urges

November 9, 2018
(HealthDay)—The #MeToo movement has given many Americans a glimpse into an unfamiliar world that may have left many wondering, "What were they thinking?"

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Anonym216579
1 / 5 (1) Sep 14, 2018
If the democrats win the house and senate ill kill myself too. Thats the real crisis.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.