Recognizing Signs of Suicidal Behavior


Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Did you know suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States? In 2017, almost 50,000 people died by suicide, and an estimated 1.4 million people attempted to take their own lives.

Every 40 seconds, a person dies because of suicide, according to the World Health Organization.

“It’s a critical issue in health care,” said Dr. Patrick Aquino, who leads the Division of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center.

For a long time, suicide was linked to mental health disorders. While the prevailing wisdom suggests the majority of those who die by suicide have a mental health illness, new data suggests this isn’t always the case.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. Data for the report was collected in 2016.

The report illuminated some alarming facts, including a 25 percent jump in suicides since 1999. The reason for the growing number of suicide deaths remains unclear but one of the key findings in the CDC report showed that 54 percent of people who died of suicide did not have a diagnosed mental condition.

Situational stressors put people at risk for suicide, not only an underlying mental health disorder. The report highlighted factors such as relationship problems, job loss, and financial turmoil.

“There are significant amounts of stressors in people’s lives that leave them feeling hopeless or despondent, and they feel there is no other way but suicide,” Aquino said. 

The reach of suicide stems far and deep. If someone dies by suicide, there is a ripple effect in the community.

“There is a big sense of loss and everything stems from that,” Aquino said. “It becomes a traumatic event, and with all episodes of trauma, it can have long-lasting effects.”

Know the Warning Signs

For instance, do you notice a loved one feeling hopeless, or talking about not wanting to be alive? Experiencing severe mood changes or acting recklessly is another sign.

If you see this in a loved one or yourself, get in touch with a mental health professional or hotline immediately. 

Know How You Can Help

Ask someone directly if they are thinking about suicide. Listen to them, and don’t judge. Respond with kindness and show them that you care. Try to check in afterward in any way you can. There are various helplines you can call.

Practice Self Care

Get enough sleep, eat well, be active, and make time for family and friends. When faced with failure or rejection, don’t let negative thoughts consume you.  

World Suicide Day promotes awareness around this preventable cause of death. And awareness, Dr. Aquino said, is a critical step in suicide prevention. The more people know about suicide prevention, the more we talk about mental health, the more lives can be saved.

The bottom line: suicide is preventable. If you’re contemplating suicide, there is help available. There are 24-hour hotlines, support groups, and one’s primary care physician and other health care providers can assist.  

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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