Suicide Awareness & Prevention

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By Laura Gutierrez, MAPicture of Laura Gutierrez, MA

Statistics on Suicide
Major depression is the foremost cause of disability in the United States and it is often referred to as the “common cold” of mental illness and a condition that typically precedes suicidal ideation. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention the rate of suicide is highest among older adults who are 85 years or older and among middle age adults, especially among white men. Younger population have a much lower suicide rate by comparison and when considering ethnic backgrounds Whites have the highest suicide rates followed by American Indians and Alaska natives. Much lower suicide rates were found among Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders with Blacks having the lowest suicide rates.

When considering the role of gender there appears to be a “gender paradox of suicidal behavior.” According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention men die by suicide 3.5x more than women and white males account for 7 out of 10 suicides in 2014. Yet data indicates that females attempt suicide three times more often than males. Such findings are congruent with other research findings which support that women are affected by depression almost twice as much as men. However, it could be that women attempt suicide more often because the methods of suicide they pursue are nonviolent such as overdosing or poisoning and therefore more prone to failure.

On the contrary, men prefer more violent methods involving the use of guns or hanging themselves. This results in what the psychological field is referring to as the “gender paradox of suicidal behavior.” On one hand women suffer more from psychological problems such as depression and experience more suicidal ideation than men but on the other hand their methods of suicide have a low success rate while men’s preferred methods of suicide have a high success rate. This explains why in 2010 out of 38,000 people who committed suicide 79% of them were males according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Warning Signs and Red Flags
There are many warning signs or red flags that may alert you that there is something wrong and that a loved one may need help and close monitoring.  Early warning signs revolve around detecting symptoms of depression and paying close attention to the content of thoughts and feelings expressed as well as certain behavioral cues. Some behavioral cues include increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, sleeping too little or too much, withdrawing, socially isolating and engaging in reckless behavior. Content of things they verbalize will usually involve: a preoccupation with death, talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live, talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain, and talking about being a burden to others.

Some of the red flags are very evident such as past suicidal attempts or talking about wanting to die or kill themselves, while others are counter intuitive and unexpected such as a sudden mood change for the better. When somebody has been depressed for a while and all of sudden has a shift in their mood for the better this could be an indication that they have decided to commit suicide and feel at peace about their decision. This is especially the case when you couple this with other red flags such as a loved one giving away prized possessions, visiting or calling people to say goodbye and making certain arrangements to set one’s affairs in order.

It is also important to keep in mind that people who have both depression and anxiety are at a much higher risk to act impulsively on their suicidal ideation and actually carry out a plan to commit suicide. Research shows that “among individuals reporting a lifetime history of suicide attempt, over 70% had an anxiety disorder. Even after adjusting for sociodemographic factors, Axis I and Axis II disorders, the presence of an anxiety disorder was significantly associated with having made a suicide attempt” (Nepon, Belik, Bolton, and Sareen, 2010).

Suicide Prevention
On one hand there are those who take their time planning their suicide and working their way up to it. Others act impulsively triggered by an existing crisis and are more likely to use whatever means are instantly available to them to act on this urge to end it all. This brings us to the premeditation versus passion dichotomy occurrence observed in suicidal behavior by researchers. Regardless of whether suicide is premeditated or done on impulse suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously followed by talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings with person exhibiting warning signs.

The next step should be to seek out professional help, create a safety plan and seek out support from other loved ones to assist with emotional support, monitoring, and supervision of person at risk. “Hopelessness” is a strong predictor of suicide so looking for solutions, using language and working towards changes that plant the seeds of hope and reassures them that things can change is a good start. For individuals who fall under the passion dichotomy of suicidal behavior a prevention that can make a huge difference is removing any objects in the home that can assist the person commit suicide such as knifes, guns or ropes. is an excellent resource that goes over tips of how to talk to a person about suicide, some of the tips are found below.

Ways to start a conversation about suicide:

  • I have been feeling concerned about you lately.
  • Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.
  • I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.

Questions you can ask:

  • When did you begin feeling like this?
  • Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?
  • How can I best support you right now?
  • Have you thought about getting help?

What you can say that helps:

  • You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
  • You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
  • I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
  • When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.

1.     National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
2.     Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-TALK (8255)
3.     Community Crisis Connection: 1-844-493-8255 (closest walk-in crisis center to Brighton)
4.     Platte Valley Medical Center: 303-498-1600 (Brighton, CO)
5.     Centennial Peaks Hospital: 303-666-2088 (Assessments & referrals, inpatient, detox, outpatient- Louisville, CO)

Nepon, J., Belik, S.-L., Bolton, J., & Sareen, J. (2010).
The Relationship Between Anxiety Disorders and Suicide Attempts: Findings from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.
Depression and Anxiety, 27(9), 791–798.