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Depression and Suicide: Breaking the Connection

Depression and Suicide

“Hope is a necessity for normal life and the major weapon against the suicide impulse.” – Karl A. Menninger  

There is something deeply disturbing yet simultaneously intriguing about suicide.  For many people, it is nearly impossible to understand the complex tangle of thoughts that compel someone to end their life.  For the approximately 43,000 Americans who choose suicide each year, however, there seems to be no better path to take.  So what is it that prompts some people to commit suicide while others, those who are seemingly just as depressed, do not?  More importantly, how can we implement depression treatment approaches that effectively bring down the number of people who take their own lives?

Depression and Suicide

A Question of Numbers

Surrounded by embarrassment and shame, it’s difficult to determine how many people die from suicide.  Even more challenging is to figure out how many people attempt suicide without success.  Here are some things we do know:

  • On average, there are approximately 117 suicides in the United States every day;
  • Throughout the world, approximately, 800,000 people die from suicide each year;
  • Men die from suicide 3.5 times more often than women;
  • In the year 2014, men accounted for 7 out of 10 suicides;
  • The most common demographic of people who commit suicide in the United States is white men age 85 and older, closely followed by white men age 45 to 65.

Correlation Between Depression and Suicide

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese Proverb

Not surprisingly, the majority of people who commit suicide have depression.  The reverse is not true, however: Most people with depression do not go on to commit suicide.  According to the Mayo Clinic, 2 to 9 percent of people with depression eventually end their own lives.  That said, people struggling with depression are 25 times more likely to commit suicide.  Those who do not seek treatment for depression frequently experience co-morbid mental health conditions, such as anxiety, suicidal ideology, and obsessive compulsive disorder.  This only serves to increase the likelihood of premature death.

Risk Factors for Suicide

It may seem impossible to predict who is most apt to commit suicide, yet nearly everyone who successfully ends their life does so after repeated “warnings” were placed — conversations, texts, social media postings and unsuccessful attempts.  Sometimes the signs are less obvious: Google searches for treatment centers for depression or self-harm.  Researchers have identified several qualities that many people who die from suicide share, including:

  • Social isolation
  • Prior suicide attempts
  • Identifying with a highly marginalized group, such as being LGBT or having a physical deformity
  • Substance abuse
  • Chronic disease and disability
  • Mental health disorders
  • Lack of access to behavioral health services
  • Knowing someone who died from suicide, especially if the person was a family member
  • Access to a firearm

Suicide Prevention

To date, 28 countries have national suicide prevention strategies.  In recent times, many countries have also decriminalized suicide, thereby making it much easier for people to seek help.  While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone, there are strategies that help with many.

Restricting access

When people don’t have easy access to the tools to commit suicide, they are far less likely to do so.  Restricting access to firearms and certain medications is an effective way to reduce suicides.

Health care services

Early identification and intervention are imperative to reducing the number of suicides.  Health care providers need to learn the warning signs of suicide and understand how to broach the topic with patients.  There need to be effective treatment centers for depression available to those at risk as well.

Communities

Community support is imperative.  They can form a social network for people with depression and other mental health disorders.  They can help encourage follow-up care, reduce the stigma associated with mental health and suicide, and offer comfort to people bereaved by suicide.  Additionally, communities can advocate for depression treatment centers.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, seek the help of a mental health professional or reach out to a treatment center for depression.  There are tools available to help you regain the control and joy you crave.

Lyle V. Hensley

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