Spotlight on suicide, intervention and prevention
The recent deaths by suicide of designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain were tragic and shocking to many who never personally knew either of them. The idea that anyone with fame, money and success could have thoughts of ending their lives and sadly followed through, may be hard to comprehend, but the fact is, depression and suicide doesn’t discriminate. If either had died in an accident or from a heart attack, would there have been as many questions surrounding their sudden deaths? The truth and important fact is, mental illness like any other disease can affect anyone, regardless of status.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that suicide rates have increased by 25 percent across the United States over the last two decades—and more than half of those who died by suicide had never been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
These high profile suicides have initiated much-needed conversations publicly and hopefully, privately within our circles of friends and family. It is vital to understand the warning signs, to check in with loved ones if you see changes in their daily habits or demeanor and simply ask the question, “are you ok?”
Thoughts of suicide can be triggered for many reasons, which include mental illness, environmental factors, a sudden event, or even medicine. According to a recent scientific study by Journal of the American Medical Association,there are over 200 drugs that have suicidal thoughts as a side effect. These include very common medications, such as birth control, beta blockers, steroids, and more. While not all who take these drugs experience side effects, it’s important to discuss the risks with your prescribing physician.
Here are some warning signs to look out for if you or a loved one starts to have thoughts of suicide:
• Increased sadness or a lack of motivation
• Self-harming activity
• Appetite or weight change
• If they use phrases like “I’m useless”, “I’m a nuisance to everyone”
• Increased use of alcohol or drugs
• Sudden mood swings
• Changes in sleep or excess fatigue
Most importantly, many people who attempt suicide end up feeling regret. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, nearly 80 percent of suicide attempts are impulsive. Less than a quarter of people who’ve attempted decided to do it less than five minutes before the attempt, while more than half made the decision within an hour before. This sheds great light on the importance of looking out for one another, especially since 90 percent of survivors don’t attempt again for the rest of their lives.
If you notice any of the above things in a loved one, be sure to talk with them. Ask how they’re doing, if something has happened to them recently, or if there’s anything you can do to help. Many people who have these thoughts or symptoms won’t reach out, so it is important to know what to look for. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Susan Kozak has been a licensed social worker for the past 31 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011.