September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day. The death by suicide of Robin Williams left many people feeling lost, confused, and devastated. When a devastating loss is highly focused on in the media, particularly with celebrities and those in the public eye, it seems to create more of an initial shock and reaction and soon thereafter the pictures, stories, and memories quickly fade from the media leaving love ones left to cope with the loss.
But did you know that suicide is a major public health problem. The psychological pain that leads each of these individuals to take their lives is unimaginable. Their deaths leave families and friends bereft and often have a major ripple effect on communities.
Every year, almost one million people die from suicide; this roughly corresponds to one death every 40 seconds. The number of lives lost each year through suicide exceeds the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined.
Suicide is among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15-44 years in some countries, and the second leading cause of death in the 10-24 years age group; these figures do not include suicide attempts which can be many times more frequent than suicide (10, 20, or more times according to some studies).
Major depression isn’t a choice or something that”just goes away” over time; it’s a brain issue. The longer depression is left untreated or ineffectively treated, the higher the risk of suicide becomes—especially in those with co-occurring mental health issues (Dr. Daniel Amen, The Amen Clinics).
In fact, a 2009 study revealed that 80% of suicide attempts were due to mental disorders, primarily related to depression, impulse control and substance abuse.
In Dr. Amen’s research he found two highly vulnerable populations who are at higher risk for suicide: Those who cry out for help (who express sadness and hopelessness through suicidal communication). This group often uses suicidal behavior as a way to manage or work out difficult feelings. Second, are those who are withdrawn and hopeless (those who withdraw—almost completely—into a deep sense of hopelessness and helplessness). This group is often more quiet, and they are at highest risk for using lethal methods to complete suicide.
Finally, there are those who are left behind who experience survivor’s guilt. Many people who witnessed or experienced a suicide in a family member, relative or close friend in their lifetimes have either blamed themselves or believed they could have done something to stop the pain or hurt. Know that you cannot heal another person’s internal distress or pain. While your presence may be comforting, at the point a person chooses suicide as a way out, it is beyond your reach.
For more information on suicide and depression:
American Association of Suicidology – resources, connections, training for professionals
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Family Support Group – (800) 950-NAMI (6264),
American Psychological Association, (202) 336-5500
American Psychiatric Association, (703) 907-7300