Suicide: Shining a Light on Why the Tenth Leading Cause of Death is Growing (cont.)

Suicide rarely has a single cause; there are usually a combination of several. Left untreated, mental health conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse can increase suicide risk. Prolonged unemployment, divorce/relationship loss, financial crisis such as bankruptcy or foreclosure, or any other major losses or life-changing events are also risk factors, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Roy Baumeister in his 1990 Psychology Review paper “Suicide as Escape from the Self” lists a model of the sequence of cognitive patterns leading to suicide. It includes failure to meet one’s standards, condemning oneself for failure to meet those standards, feeling painfully self-aware, experiencing extremely difficult emotions, attempting to avoid meaningful thoughts (“it all doesn’t matter”), and disinhibition.

Although some individuals do not show warning signs and may take great efforts to conceal them, those who are more ambivalent may drop hints. Experts suggest paying attention to a person’s talk, behavior and mood. Those who are suicidal may discuss feeling trapped, being a burden, or feeling unbearable physical or emotional pain. They may withdraw from social activities, isolate themselves, and sleep too much or too little. Moods and feelings may include agitation and anger as well as relief and sudden improvement, irritability, humiliation, and shame. Perhaps they began giving away possessions making unexpected calls.

Depression can tend to stigmatize individuals who avoid seeking treatment, with hopes that they could “tough it out”; others simply do not have access to mental health services. Fifty four percent of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention. This requires coordination and cooperation from government, public health, healthcare, employers, education, media and community organizations. In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control released a technical package on suicide prevention. Strategies and approaches include strengthening economic supports through household financial security and housing stabilization policies, coverage of mental health conditions and reduction of provider shortages in underserved areas, creating protective environments, promoting connectedness, teaching coping and problem-solving skills, identifying and supporting people at risk, and safe reporting and messaging about suicide.