The death of Robin Williams has significantly impacted our nation and increased our awareness of mental health and substance use in the community. The comorbidity of mood disorders and substance use are well documented in the literature and, if left untreated, can be both debilitating and life threatening. A common symptom of mood disorders is suicidal ideation or death-related thoughts, which may or may not be expressed to others. It is important to remember that suicide does not occur in a vacuum but rather in the context of despair, hopelessness, and deep psychological pain. As the emotional and psychological pain deepens, the individual contemplates their existence, the meaning of life, and the nature of being in the world. Questions that he or she may consider include, “Why am I here?” “What is the purpose of my life?” Who would miss me if I were gone?” Many of these individuals believe that they are a burden to those around them and that no one would miss them if they were gone. Most common misconceptions of suicide are,“Suicide can’t be prevented”, “People who take their own life are selfish, cowards, weak or are just looking for attention”, “Talk therapy and/or medications don’t work”, “Asking someone about suicidal thoughts may trigger the act”, “People who threaten suicide never go through with it”, “Suicide does not affect young people”, “Suicide does not affect the elderly”, “People who commit suicide didn’t want help”.
According to the American Association of Suicidology, someone dies by suicide in the United States every 13.7 minutes. It is estimated that 9 out of 10 people who die by suicide had a diagnosable mental disorder, yet only 3 out of 10 people who died by suicide received mental health services in the year before they died. Furthermore, the official data collected in 2011 for the U.S.A. indicates that the population at greatest risk are Caucasian, middle-aged (45-64yrs old) men. In addition, suicide ranks as the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death for youth (15-24yrs old). Given the prevalence rates of suicide among Americans, it is not surprising that suicide affects at least 6 other people, which translates to 6 new people becoming suicide survivors every 13.7 minutes. *
So, what should we know to be able to create informed opinions and have heightened awareness of factors surrounding suicide? Here is a non-exhaustive list of risk and protective factors, not mentioned above, that can help to increase your knowledge and a basic understanding.
The American Association of Suicidology has developed an easy mnemonic for the public to remember risk factors associated with suicide:
As a society, we are quick to adopt the mindset of those that are the most persistent and vocal, when many times their position is based on isolated (non-empirical) data. It is important that we not only stay informed with concrete factual information, but that we use this knowledge to assist or guide those that are in need and not abandon them for fear of being uncomfortable or not knowing what to say.
Jeremy H. Broussard PhD, LPC
Gannon J. Watts PhD, LPC-S, LAC, NCC, NCSC, AADC, ICAADC
*Data collected from www.suicidology.org