Suicide Prevention: Risk factors, warning signs, and treatment options
6/15/2020 by Olivia Bogucki, PhD
In 2017, approximately 47,000 people took their own lives, which placed suicide as the 10th leading cause of death. Last year, the National Center for Health Statistics released numbers showing:
- Rate of suicides in the United States increased by 33% between 1999 and 2017.
- Suicide rates increased for both males and females across all age groups.
- Young and adolescent boys and girls ages 10-14 showed the sharpest percentage increase.
- Adult males and females ages 75 and older showed a decrease in the rate of suicide from 1999 to 2017, though males in this age group still have the highest rates of suicide.
The human toll of suicide is staggering — not only for the needless loss of thousands of lives each year, but the impact on grieving family and friends who will live with the loss the rest of their lives. Suicide prevention can and should be a priority for all of us.
Be aware of risk factors
The first step toward reversing these numbers is better understanding of the risk factors for suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention identifies the top factors to be assessed as:
- Health (depression, anxiety, substance abuse, chronic medical conditions, pain, etc.)
- Social/environmental (access to firearms and drugs, chronic stress, significant loss, isolation, conflict with family members or friends, etc.)
- Historical (previous suicide attempts, family history of suicide, childhood abuse and neglect)
For individuals from diverse identities, experiencing prejudice, discrimination, and trauma has been associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Data indicates that American Indian/Alaska Native and LGBT+ populations are particularly vulnerable.
For adolescents and children, bullying — both face-to-face and cyberbullying — has been strongly correlated with suicidal thoughts and behavior. Data suggests that being the perpetrator, as well as the victim of bullying might be linked to increased risk of suicide in youth.
Watch for warning signs
Pay attention to certain warning signs from individuals who may be at risk for harming themselves:
- Changes in mood, such as severe depression, anger, anxiety, hopelessness, or apathy
- Changes in behavior, including isolation, acting impulsively, excessive substance use or deliberately searching for ways to harm themselves
- Talking about not wanting to live, expressing hopelessness that things will not get better or feeling they are a burden to others
Be aware of protective factors
Protective factors — those that help to promote safety and reduce risk for suicide — include:
- Social support (family, friends, community)
- Cultural and spiritual beliefs
- Access to health care services
- Effective treatment of depression, anxiety, stress and substance-related disorders
- Problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills
- A sense of meaning and purpose for life
Help is always available
For those in immediate crisis, help is always available. Call 911, break the trap of isolation by reaching out to others, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK; 1-800-273-8255).
Talk with your child
For parents concerned about their child, it can be hard to know how to behave. Bringing up your concerns with your child, including asking directly about suicide, is important. Parents sometimes worry that talking about suicide can "plant ideas" in their child's head, but in reality, talking openly about your concerns and making a family-wide plan to get help is the best way to ensure your child's safety. Visit the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide website for more information.
Effective treatments are available to further reduce risk for suicide. Psychotherapy and medications are used to address mental-health problems. Your health care provider can refer you to local resources. Increasing family and social support also can help rebuild social connections and promote safety.
Educating yourself about risk factors, warning signs, protective factors and available treatments can begin a new trend toward reducing the risk for suicide.
Dr. Olivia Bogucki is a clinical health psychology fellow in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson.
Dr. Jocelyn Lebow is a child and adolescent psychologist in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson.
Dr. Craig Sawchuk is a clinical psychologist in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson and co-chairs the Division of Integrated Behavioral Health.