The recent deaths of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have put the spotlight back on suicide, causing many to ask why it happens.
And on the heels of these two high profile cases, comes a new report on suicide from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report illuminated some alarming facts, including a 25 percent jump in suicides since 1999 and nearly 45,000 Americans died by suicide in 2016 alone.
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, the new data suggests that isn’t always the case.
The reason for the growing number of suicide deaths remains unclear.
“I don’t know that anyone knows the etiology of this increase, but everyone is alarmed and concerned,” said Dr. Patrick Aquino, who leads the Division of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. “It’s a critical issue in health care — it’s the 10th leading cause of death. We need to change our response to how we deal with it.”
A key finding in the CDC report is that 54 percent of people who died of suicide did not have a diagnosed mental condition.
This phenomenon shows there can be situational stressors putting 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.
It’s important for friends, loved ones and others to let at-risk people know there is always help available because if they’re contemplating suicide, they very likely don’t see this.
“We must first figure out how to recognize people are at risk,” Aquino said. “For those at risk, it’s about inquiring.”
Inquiring has been an obstacle for many, fearing the at-risk person will start contemplating suicide once it’s mentioned.
“Inquiring does not increase the chance they’ll do it,” Aquino said. “Some people don’t want to bring it up because they don’t want to put an idea of suicide out there.”
But 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.”
Lahey Health has started training community members to recognize people at risk for suicide through Mental Health First Aid. Training has been offered to school officials, police and other community partners.
“The system really relies on loved ones and family members to help people at risk find ways to the proper treatment,” Aquino said.
Other factors putting people at risk for suicide are a personal history of suicide attempt, substance use, chronic pain, if a family member has died by suicide.
“Suicide was always linked to mental health, but it is not just that,” he said. “There are many other individuals at risk.”
The bottom line: suicide is preventable. If you’re contemplating suicide, there is help available. There are 24-hour hotlines (1-800-273-8255), support groups, and one’s primary care physician and other health care providers can assist.
For more information on our Mental Health First Aid training program, please call 978-968-1700.