Everything you need to know about suicide

People who follow me on Twitter probably know that I have a habit of reading every obituary in the Sunday paper, trying to pick out the people who took their own life. I don’t do it for entertainment; I do it to see if there’s any breakthrough in the willingness to confront an epidemic head-on by acknowledging it exists. Last Sunday, for example, one obituary for a 15-year old said only, the youngster “chose to be with the Lord.”

This is National Suicide Prevention Week, something you’re not likely to hear about because the journalism community generally believes that talk of suicide encourages suicide. But they give me this blog to make a difference…. so…

Here are some statistics, courtesy of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

General

-Over 34,000 people in the United States die by suicide every year.

-In 2007 (latest available data), there were 34,598 reported suicide deaths.

-Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years in the United States (28,628 suicides).

-Currently, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States.

-A person dies by suicide about every 15 minutes in the United States.

-Every day, approximately 90 Americans take their own life.

-Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.

-There are four male suicides for every female suicide, but three times as many females as males attempt suicide.

-There are an estimated 8-25 attempted suicides for every suicide death.

Youth

-Suicide is the fifth leading cause of death among those 5-14 years old.

-Suicide is the third leading cause of death among those 15-24 years old.

-Between the mid-1950s and the late 1970s, the suicide rate among U.S. males aged 15-24 more than tripled (from 6.3 per 100,000 in 1955 to 21.3 in 1977). Among females aged 15-24, the rate more than doubled during this period (from 2.0 to 5.2). The youth suicide rate generally leveled off during the 1980s and early 1990s, and since the mid-1990s has been steadily decreasing.

-Between 1980-1996, the suicide rate for African-American males aged 15-19 has also doubled.

-Risk factors for suicide among the young include suicidal thoughts, psychiatric disorders (such as depression, impulsive aggressive behavior, bipolar disorder, certain anxiety disorders), drug and/or alcohol abuse and previous suicide attempts, with the risk increased if there is situational stress and access to firearms.

Older People

-The suicide rates for men rise with age, most significantly after age 65.

-The rate of suicide in men 65+ is seven times that of females who are 65+.

-The suicide rates for women peak between the ages of 45-54 years old, and again after age 75.

-About 60 percent of elderly patients who take their own lives see their primary care physician within a few months of their death.

-Six to 9 percent of older Americans who are in a primary care setting suffer from major depression.

-More than 30 percent of patients suffering from major depression report suicidal ideation.

-Risk factors for suicide among the elderly include: a previous attempt, the presence of a mental illness, the presence of a physical illness, social isolation (some studies have shown this is especially so in older males who are recently widowed) and access to means, such as the availability of firearms in the home.

Depression

-Over 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent.

-Depression affects nearly 10 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year, or more than 24 million people.

-More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease (17 million), cancer (12 million) and HIV/AIDS (1 million).

-About 15 percent of the population will suffer from clinical depression at some time during their lifetime. Thirty percent of all clinically depressed patients attempt suicide; half of them ultimately die by suicide.

-Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. But first, depression has to be recognized.

Alcohol and Suicide

-Ninety-six percent of alcoholics who die by suicide continue their substance abuse up to the end of their lives.

-Alcoholism is a factor in about 30 percent of all completed suicides.

-Approximately 7 percent of those with alcohol dependence will die by suicide.

Firearms and Suicide

A-lthough most gun owners reportedly keep a firearm in their home for “protection” or “self defense,” 83 percent of gun-related deaths in these homes are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun owner.

-Firearms are used in more suicides than homicides.

-Death by firearms is the fastest growing method of suicide.

-Firearms account for 50 percent of all suicides.

Medical Illness and Suicide

-Patients who desire an early death during a serious or terminal illness are usually suffering from a treatable depressive condition.

-People with AIDS have a suicide risk up to 20 times that of the general population.

And here are some resources in Minnesota.

  • Sue

    If you have ever had a family member or friend commit suicide – it is the most horrible tragedy. I had a close family commit suicide four years ago. I still can’t believe he did this and that his family, through recovering continues to struggle with his death.

    Thank you for the information you bring forth about it.

    Sue

  • Heather

    Thank you, Bob.

  • Jamie

    Those statistics are stunning.

  • Shannon

    I don’t know if this has been big news in the U.S. or in Minnesota, but two NHLers have recently committed suicide (Rick Rypien: http://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/story/2011/08/15/sp-rypien.html ; and Wade Belak: http://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/story/2011/08/31/sp-belak-death.html). And of course, earlier this summer Derek Boogaard was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment from an accidental overdose of pain pills and alcohol, though he said he had been depressed since he received his concussion.

    These deaths have made suicide a big point of discussion in Canada, and among many people who follow hockey all over the world. The press has been careful to point out that Rypien and Belak were suffering from depression, a very real condition that can strike anyone even if they are living what many consider a dream life.

    Clara Hughes, a Canadian Olympic athlete with 5 medals and I think the only or first person to have medals from the summer and winter games both came out and said that she suffered deep depression. Her voice is one that is so rarely heard in mass media. Bob noted in his write up here that the media shies away from the topic for fear of sparking more, but shunning it seems to cause more isolation of suffering people.

  • Tyler

    Bob, doesn’t this ruin your Sunday? I don’t think I could handle that week after week.

  • Christin

    Thank you for the post Bob. It is some timing, as September is the anniversary of my father’s suicide. My father took his life when I was 17 and my sister 13. This year marks the 14th anniversary of his death; it remains confusing and painful. I know the hopelessness and helplessness felt by my dad, and have choosen to break the cycle in our family. Today I have two children of my own,and when I look at thier faces I cannot imagine hurting them in that way.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Christin – Kudos on doing the extremely advanced spiritual task of turning your own pain into compassion.

    Keep up the good work.
    :-)

  • Pastor Bonnie

    Bob,

    You read the obits for honesty about suicide, and I help lay to rest the dead, and carry their families through the tragedy. In 100% of the funerals I have conducted for victims of suicide, I have been given permission to name what happened, along with the questions that will never be answered. People are genuinely grateful for the honesty.

    I am also grateful today for the many, many people with whom I have talked over the years about suicidal thoughts and who are still here today. Depression is treatable. People care.

    Thank you for honesty.

  • Lily

    Thank you ….I agree with the need to talk openly about suicide….I am concerned about the prevailing view that suicide among youth in high school should not be a focus for long out of concern for copy cats. I believe that the opposite may be true and that we need to help students to understand suicide, the risk factors, and to have full opportunities to grieve….with the start of a new school year we will likely be dealing with this issue again and I hope that school districts will keep an open mind and not necessarily follow the advice of the SAVE folks….. Just my humble opinion here.

  • lucy

    This article is irritating. For the last day I have written and rewritten a response then only to delete it. But I gotta say something.

    Sure, go ahead and slap as much prozac and therapy then send the victim packing with a neat little box of affirmations. But I will bet you that it won’t do any good, when it is the environment or the society, your so-called good neighbors, who are the root of the problem.

    When parents, schools, work environments stop filling children and adults with the need to compete then we might be getting towards a solution to the problem. It’s a tall order to demolish but certtainly is doable.

    This is an interesting discussion jon the subject. dr. Michael Sharp in particular has a clear understanding of what is going on.

    http://forums.thelightningpath.com/forum/pinned-discussions-1/progress-not-prozac/

    one more thing. I have over heard several young adults comment on how they are really afraid to grow up in this society.

    Wow, look what we have done. Progress, indeed.

  • Bob Collins

    With all due respect, Lucy, what are you talking about?

    There isn’t a single reference — not one — in the post about those things you seem to be objecting to.

    It’s mortality data.

  • lucy

    With all respect Bob, I am talking about suicide-people’s comments on treating depression -which amounts to useless therapy and pills-and how they don’t work.

    My comment pertains to if we really want to stop suicide we shouuld start thinking differently about the problem which is not always the individual but often the environment.

  • Bob Collins

    There are no references that I can find in the comments regarding therapy and pills. The only reference to prescriptions were for a hockey player who was addicted to pain pills, which had nothing to do with any therapy.

  • lucy

    and this applies to your statistics?

    ///Bob,

    You read the obits for honesty about suicide, and I help lay to rest the dead, and carry their families through the tragedy. In 100% of the funerals I have conducted for victims of suicide, I have been given permission to name what happened, along with the questions that will never be answered. People are genuinely grateful for the honesty.

    I am also grateful today for the many, many people with whom I have talked over the years about suicidal thoughts and who are still here today. Depression is treatable. People care.

    Thank you for honesty.

    Posted by Pastor Bonnie

    //It’s mortality data.

    Posted by Bob Collins

    ok, Bob. How am i supposed to respond to your data? Nice work there Bob, scary numbers.

    or I can comment that it doesn’t have to be this way and why it doesn’t and where the problems lie.

  • Alison

    Transgender Suicide Attempts

    From the 2011 survey of 6450 transgender Americans by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

    \\A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population, with unemployment, bullying in school, low household income and sexual and physical associated with even higher rates.

    And of course those reporting the suicide attempts are the ones who survived.

    It there is person in your life questioning their gender identity or making the change, please be supportive. Your acceptance of them in their difficult and often painful journey can make all the difference.

    If you are transgender and contemplating suicide, know that there are MANY good and accepting people out there. Get some professional help in finding a better path than suicide. And once you sort this out, it is possible to find a sense of happiness and peace like you never knew existed.

  • lucy

    Bob Collins said:

    “I don’t do it for entertainment; I do it to see if there’s any breakthrough in the willingness to confront an epidemic.”

    and then Bob Collins said:

    “There are no references that I can find in the comments regarding therapy and pills. The only reference to prescriptions were for a hockey player who was addicted to pain pills, which had nothing to do with any therapy. head-on by acknowledging it exists.”

    and then Alison brings it on home with this:

    “Get some professional help in finding a better path than suicide. ”

    but, but, what if it is the environment. the status quo that is the problem? statistically speaking.

  • Alison

    Lucy – The staus quo may be a part of the problem for transgender people, however a good therapist can help find constructive ways to approach the situation. They also have connections to support groups and knowledge of successful transgender people they can present as examples.

    I’m not speaking for the rest of the population, but being transgender can be an enormously confusing and disconcerting thing, regardless of acceptance by society. I have an excellent network of support and am widely accepted, but I haven’t transitioned full time, and I can attest to the intense stress of this situation.

    If the status quo for transgender people is going to change (and it IS already improving rapidly) it is going to be through the examples of out and successful transgender people, most of whom will have sought the help of professionals. Further, like it or not, if someone does need to transition, evaluation by mental health professionals is required in order to recieve services.

  • Alison

    Lucy – Are you trying to make the case that there is no such thing as clinical depression? That it is all a ploy to sell drugs and keep psychiatrists employed? Or at least that clinical depression is very rare? if this is your point , do you have some evidence?

  • lucy

    ///Lucy – Are you trying to make the case that there is no such thing as clinical depression?

    not at all Alison.

    The point I was trying to make, I already made.

    //I’m not speaking for the rest of the population, but being transgender can be an enormously confusing and disconcerting thing, regardless of acceptance by society. I have an excellent network of support and am widely accepted, but I haven’t transitioned full time, and I can attest to the intense stress of this situation.

    If the status quo for transgender people is going to change (and it IS already improving rapidly) it is going to be through the examples of out and successful transgender people, most of whom will have sought the help of professionals.

    That’s great! I am happy to hear of a success story, and that you shared it with others.