Suicide, or intentionally causing one's own death, is a serious and all too common problem in the United States. More than a tenth of all deaths nationwide are attributable to suicide and the rate of death by suicide has increased significantly during the last decade. Suicide has recently become the leading cause of death by injury, surpassing even deaths by car accidents.
Self-inflicted death has reached what some have called epidemic proportions among military personnel. More deaths of United States soldiers resulted from suicide than from combat in 2012 and 2013. Suicide prevention involves providing more far-reaching education about risk factors and warning signs and making more mental health care resources available to those in danger of taking their own lives.
Types of Suicide
There are various methods by which individuals commit suicide. Among the most common are gunshot, poisoning or overdosing with medication. Means of committing suicide are extremely varied, but fall into three basic categories:
A physical suicide takes place when the individual incapacitates respiration or the functioning of the central nervous system. Physical suicide includes smothering, the use of firearms, hanging, or slashing the wrists.
Chemical means of suicide include all types of poisoning or deliberate overdosing.
Indirect suicides result from premeditation but are indirectly inflicted. An example is the deliberate commission of a dangerous illegal act in order to provoke death by law enforcement officials, or deliberately walking on railroad tracks.
Risk Factors for Suicide
Suicide is usually the result of a serious mental disorder, but individuals are presumed to be at greater risk if they have:
- Family history of mental disorder, substance abuse, or suicide
- Personal history of separation or divorce
- History of previous suicide attempts
- Available weapons, poisons or medications
- Chronic debilitating illness or pain
- History of incarceration or wartime trauma
- Experienced suicidal behavior of admired figures
- Endured a trauma and experience post-traumatic stress
Demographics of Suicide
There are certain groups of individuals more prone to commit suicide. These groups include:
- Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Individuals
- Individuals who are bullied
- Those in severe financial distress
- Caucasians and Native Americans
- Unmarried, divorced or widowed individuals
- Those who have survived combat
Age is also a factor. Teens, young adults and senior citizens are most at risk, with adult males heading the list.
Warning Signs of Suicide
Warning signs of suicide should always be taken seriously. They may include one or more of the following:
- Clinical depression
- Frequent discussion of death
- Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
- Inability to experience pleasure
- Risk-taking behavior
- Putting affairs in order, giving away beloved objects
- Sudden calm or contentment after a period of desperation
- Thinking about suicide (suicidal ideation)
- Talking about suicide
- Saying goodbye to intimates
Suicide is often preventable. Those suffering mental anguish with suicidal ideation should not be left alone. Human contact and receptive listening can make a tremendous difference. When dealing with a potentially suicidal patient, any potential weapons, medications or poisons should be removed from the vicinity.
There are several treatment options for those who are suicidal. These include:
- Psychotherapy of various types
- Psychotrophic medications: antidepressants, anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers
- Emergency intervention and psychiatric confinement
When a life is in danger, it is necessary to be proactive by dialing 911 or taking the patient to the nearest emergency room.
Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia
There is much controversy surrounding the concept of assisted suicide in the United States. Those who favor the proposal believe that patients suffering from unremitting pain or overwhelming disability with no prognosis of improvement should be allowed to die if they so wish. Different states have varying laws about suicide. Assisted suicide, highly publicized in the acts of Dr. Jack Kevorkian in the 1990s, is considered manslaughter or murder in some places. Euthanasia, where another person, often a physician, makes the determination to end the life of another because of ongoing suffering, is also controversial.