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Suicide Facts

- Warning Signs
Suicide Demographics
Frequently Asked Questions

Warning Signs
Sudden, dramatic, unexplained change in a typical behavior pattern (e.g. a penny pincher donating a large sum of money; a non-drinker suddenly begins drinking to excess; a highly social person becomes withdrawn)
- Recovering suddenly from a severe depression
- Change in school or work performance
- Sudden resignation from clubs/organizations
- Buying a gun
- Planning for own death (e.g. will or funeral arrangements or giving away important possessions
- Preoccupation with death
- Verbal clues—blatant pronouncements such as “I just wish I were dead” or comments about suicidal fantasies or more subtle statements such as “I don’t think I can take it anymore” or “ Life has lost its meaning for me” or “Nobody needs me anymore” or “They would be better off without me”.  Verbal clues are the type of warning sign you will be most likely to encounter as a volunteer.
- High risk or self-destructive behave

Here is an easy mnemonic to remember these warning signs:

I         Ideation
S        Substance Abuse
P        Purposelessness
A        Anxiety
T        Trapped
H        Hopelessness
W       Withdrawal
A        Anger
R        Recklessness
M        Mood Changes

Suicide Demographics
- Suicide took the lives of 30,622 people in 2001 (CDC 2004).
- Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for all U.S. men (Anderson and Smith 2003).
- Males are four times more likely to die from suicide than females (CDC 2004).
- Women report attempting suicide during their lifetime about three times as often as men (Krug et al. 2002).
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24. In 2001, 3,971 suicides were reported in this group (Anderson and Smith 2003).
- Of the total number of suicides among ages 15 to 24 in 2001, 86% (n=3,409) were male and 14% (n=562) were female (Anderson and Smith 2003).

Why Do People Commit Suicide?
A suicide attempt is a clear indication that something is gravely wrong in a person’s life. No matter the race or age of the person; how rich or poor they are, it is true that most people who commit suicide have a mental or emotional disorder. The most common underlying disorder is depression, 30% to 70% of suicide victims suffer from major depression or bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder.

Remember: Eight out of ten suicidal persons give some sign of their intentions. People who talk about suicide, threaten to commit suicide, or call suicide crisis centers are 30 times more likely than average to kill themselves.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What should you do if someone tells you they are thinking about suicide?

A.      If someone tells you they are thinking about suicide, you should take their distress seriously, listen nonjudgmental, and help them get to a professional for evaluation and treatment.  People consider suicide when they are hopeless and unable to see alternative solutions to problems.  Suicidal behavior is most often related to a mental disorder (depression) or to alcohol or other substance abuse.  Suicidal behavior is also more likely to occur when people experience stressful events.  If someone is in imminent danger of harming himself/herself, do not leave the person alone.  Call ACCESS Services at 961-8400 (RAFT after 4pm and weekends) or you may need to take emergency steps to get help, such as calling 911.  When someone is in a suicidal crisis, it is important to limit access to firearms or other lethal means of committing suicide.  ECO’s and TDO’s are other important components to successfully handling a suicidal situation.

Q.      What are the most common methods of suicide?

A.        Firearms are the most commonly used method of suicide for men and women, accounting for 60% of all suicides.  Nearly 80% of all firearm suicides are committed by white males.  The second most common method for men is hanging; for women, the second most common method is self-poisoning including drug overdose.  The presence of a firearms in the home has been found to be an independent, additional risk factor for suicide.  Thus, when a family member or health care provider is faced with an individual at risk for suicide, they should make sure that firearms are removed from the home.

Q.        Who is at highest risk for suicide in the US?

A.        There is a common perception that suicide rates are higher among the young.  However, it is the elderly, particularly older white males that have the highest rates.  And among white males 65 and older, risk goes up with age. White men 85 and older have a suicide rate that is  six times that of the overall national rate.  Some older persons are less likely to survive attempts because they are less likely to recuperate.  Over 70% of older suicide victims have been to their primary care physicians within the month of their death, and many did not tell their doctors they were depressed.

Q.        Does depression increase the risk for suicide?

A.         Although the majority of people who have depression do not die by suicide, having major depression does increase suicide risk compared to people without depression.  The risk of death by suicide may, in part, be related to the severity of the depression.

Q.        Does alcohol and other drug abuse increase the risk for suicide?

A.        A number of recent national surveys have helped shed light on the relationship between alcohol and other drug use and suicidal behavior.  A review of minimum-age drinking laws and suicides among youths age 18-20 found that lower minimum –age drinking laws was associated with higher youth suicide rates.  In a large study following adults who reported that they had made a suicide attempt during their lifetime were more likely to have had a depressive disorder, and many also had an alcohol intoxication, over 20% were suicides.

Q.        Is it possible to predict suicide?

A.        At the current time there is no definitive measure to predict suicide or suicidal behavior.  Researchers have identified factors that place individuals at higher risk for suicide, but very few persons with these risk factors will actually commit suicide.   Risk factors include mental illness, substance abuse, previous suicide attempts, family history of suicide, history of being sexually abused, and impulsive or aggressive tendencies.  Suicide is a relatively rare event and it is therefore difficult to predict which persons with these risk factors will ultimately commit suicide.



A poem from a close friend of the Raft Hotline who has personally dealt with depression...

Not a Pretty Picture
Depression is not a pretty picture
I call my landscape Black on Black
Black waves of feeling slamming
Onto an ever blacker shore

I cry out in the blackness, the only response
Echoes of my own desperate cries
I’m so alone, and isolated amid people who care about me and love me
I can’t feel their love and comfort
Because I am plagued by an insidious virus
That repels their loving touches

A virus that permeates each cell
Engulfing its red life, turning, mutating
My inner self into blackness

I hurt, a hurt deep and pervasive
A no name, shapeless hurt
If this hurt were but a monster or ogre that I could see
Confront a dragon, perhaps
I could slay a dragon before I can crush
This evil, amoeboid, ever growing pain

To have the blues – to have a Picasso blue
Period – my normal state of melancholia
But no, I am but one color
My paint brush drips only black
My palette smudged – all hues
In to black

I do feel – my heart races
I feel agitated, panicky
I reach out to a light
Dimly beckoning from a tunnel
To death



© 2006 New River Valley Community Services