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Suicide Fast Facts

In 2017, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 47,000 deaths from suicide being recorded that year. Young Americans are especially vulnerable. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people under the age of 35, second only to accidents.

Americans attempted suicide an estimated 1.4 million times in 2017. In 2017, there were more than twice as many suicides in America than homicides.

White men make up more than two-thirds of all suicide deaths in America. The suicide rate is highest for middle-aged white men. Nearly 10 million Americans each year report having seriously considered committing suicide.

More than 7% of children between the ages of 9 and 12 report having attempted suicide each year.

An estimated 90% of people who die by suicide were suffering from an underlying mental disorder.

What is Suicide?

Suicide, suicide attempts, and suicidal thoughts (often called suicidal ideation by healthcare providers) are common reactions to feelings of hopelessness, depression, or negative life situations. Sufferers typically feel unable to cope with their circumstances and consider suicide to be a viable option.

Suicidal ideation and suicide attempts often occur in conjunction with mental illness such as major depression, but suicidal behavior is not always accompanied by another diagnosable cause. Also, sufferers of other mental disorders do not always exhibit suicidal behavior.

Suicidal thoughts are, however, a serious problem, and anyone who considers attempting suicide should seek immediate help by calling 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Symptoms

Everyone experiences suicidal thoughts differently. Some people may express their thoughts openly, and others may attempt to hide what they’re feeling from friends and loved ones.

Some common forms of suicidal behavior, suicidal ideation, and warning signs include:

  • Openly expressing the desire to kill yourself.
  • Taking steps to acquire the means to kill yourself, such as buying a gun or collecting medications.
  • Engaging in risky behaviors or abusing drugs or alcohol.
  • Saying goodbye to loved ones, giving away prized possessions, or otherwise taking steps to prepare for death.
  • Being preoccupied with death or morbid thoughts.
  • Feeling hopeless or inextricably caught in a bad situation.
  • Withdrawing from social interaction and normal contact with your loved ones.
  • Being unusually moody or anxious, or exhibiting other personality changes.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

What Causes Suicide?

People suffering from certain mental disorders may be at increased risk of suicidal behavior, but suicidal thoughts may also arise in reaction to external factors and situations entirely separate from mental illness. In addition, there is research to suggest that some people may be at increased risk of suicidal behavior because of an inherited genetic factor.

Some common risk factors of suicidal behavior and ideation include:

  • Diagnosed mental illness such as major depression, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD)
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Death of a loved one
  • Financial stress
  • Divorce or end of a relationship
  • Military service
  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • Family history of suicide, violence, or mental illness
  • Chronic pain
  • Terminal or chronic illness
  • Social isolation or loneliness
  • Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or non-binary in an unsupportive family and/or community

Suicide risk in children and adolescents may also increase in the presence of factors such as:

  • Bullying
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Loss of a friend or loved one, or even an acquaintance, especially to suicide
  • Questions about sexuality or gender
  • Family conflict
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Beginning treatment with or changing the dosage of some antidepressant medications

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Is Suicide Hereditary?

Research has found a connection between a particular gene and an increased risk of suicidal behavior. The gene in question is one that controls the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a chemical that may be a factor in the development of disorders such as bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s disease. A particular variation of the gene also seems to be linked to an increased risk of suicidal behavior, and the gene may be passed on through families.

It is important to understand, however, that just because someone possesses this particular gene, there is no certainty that they will exhibit suicidal behavior or even develop any mental illness. The gene is likely only one of many genetic and neurological factors that contribute to the problems. The development of illness is probably a result of a complex interaction of all the factors.

It’s also likely that external factors can influence the ways that genes behave. Even if you possess the gene that increases your risk, it may be an outside event that triggers suicidal behavior.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Suicidal Behavior Detected?

Spotting the earliest signs of suicidal thoughts or suicidal behavior in loved ones may be difficult, especially if they attempt to hide what they’re feeling. Some sufferers are open about their suicidal thoughts and seek help, but others keep their thoughts a secret until it’s too late.

Some warning signs to watch for include:

  • Talk of hopelessness
  • Talk of feeling unloved or being a burden on loved ones
  • Talking about suicide or researching suicide methods
  • Fatigue or excessive sleeping
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability, anger, or moodiness
  • Withdrawal from family or social interaction
  • Violent or aggressive behavior
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Sudden change from a depressed mood to one that seems happy or relieved

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Suicidal Behavior Diagnosed?

Anyone who experiences suicidal thoughts–or anyone whose child or loved one exhibits any of the warning signs–should not hesitate to seek diagnosis or treatment from a professional healthcare provider.

The diagnostic process for a patient who is exhibiting suicidal thoughts or who has attempted suicide will usually include steps meant to identify the cause of the suicidal thoughts. When a likely cause identified, a treatment plan to control the suicidal behavior can be made.

  • Physical exam and health history. A thorough physical exam may be aimed at ruling out health conditions that can cause suicidal ideation. A health history can spot exposure to risk factors or medication side effects that could be contributing to the problem.
  • Laboratory tests. Blood tests can look for chemical imbalances that can have neurological effects. Drug screening can also identify problems with substance abuse, a common factor in suicidal behavior.
  • Psychological testing. Your medical doctor may refer you to a mental health professional who may conduct exams and assessments to look for conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or PTSD which may be the underlying trigger for suicidal behavior.
  • Family history and interviews. Especially in the case of children or adolescents who exhibit suicidal behavior, healthcare providers will usually want to find out more about the sufferer’s situation from parents, teachers, and others.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Suicidal Behavior Treated?

The treatment plan for suicidal behavior will vary depending on the underlying cause diagnosed by your healthcare provider.

  • Psychotherapy. A short-term course of psychotherapy is often prescribed for people who attempt suicide as a way to get suicidal behavior under control. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used, and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is sometimes used in cases of repeated suicide attempts.
  • Medications for mental illness. Many different drug treatments are available to treat suicidal behavior when it arises in conjunction with an underlying mental illness. Antidepressants may be prescribed to treat major depression, for example, and antipsychotics or mood stabilizers may be used if the underlying condition is bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
    Care must be taken when initiating treatment (or changing dosages) of children or adolescents with certain antidepressants. In the short term, these medications may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts.
  • Substance abuse or addiction treatment. In cases where substance abuse is the trigger for suicidal thoughts or behavior, a treatment program is typically recommended.
  • Ongoing psychotherapy and family therapy. A combination of drug treatments and long-term psychotherapy is often effective in decreasing suicidal behavior. In many cases, the involvement of the sufferer’s loved ones in the treatment program is very helpful.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How does Suicidal Behavior Progress?

Beyond the obvious risk of death from a successful suicide attempt, long-term suicidal thoughts and behaviors can have lasting and severe health impacts. The effects of a chronically depressed mood can get in the way of daily functioning, leading to a cycle of destructive behaviors.

Risky and dangerous behaviors that sometimes go along with suicidal thoughts can threaten the health and safety of the sufferer and those around them. And the physical damage caused by an unsuccessful suicide attempt can linger, even long after the suicidal behavior is treated.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Suicidal Behavior Prevented?

Suicide prevention requires quick and appropriate action when someone is at risk of committing suicide. Just as crucial, however, is the ongoing treatment of the underlying cause to help ensure that suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts don’t continue.

  • Don’t hesitate to get emergency help. If you are contemplating suicide, reach out for support from your family, friends, therapist, doctor, religious counselor, or support group. If you don’t know anyone who can help, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
  • Seek treatment for mental illness. Suicidal behavior is often the result of an untreated or undiagnosed mental illness. Proper treatment of those illnesses is crucial in preventing recurring suicidal behavior.
  • Get help for substance abuse. Therapy, addiction counseling, and support groups are often effective in controlling substance-abuse problems that underlie suicidal behavior.
  • Fight isolation. If you live in a community that is hostile to your sexuality or gender identity, look for communities, organizations, and groups that will support you.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Suicide Caregiver Tips

Caring for someone who is exhibiting suicidal behavior is terrifying and exhausting. Not only are you tasked with reacting appropriately in times of crisis, but you’re also expected to remain constantly on guard until an often-chronic problem gets better. To help both yourself and your loved one to cope, keep these tips in mind:

  • Take suicide warning signs seriously. Know how you’ll need to respond in an emergency, and don’t hesitate to seek help when you think your loved one is in danger. Don’t leave the sufferer alone, and call for help immediately.
  • Be frank about the problem. Don’t try to ignore your loved one’s suicidal behavior in the hope that it will go away, or in fear that you’ll spur them to make a suicide attempt. Be sympathetic, supportive, and honest about your concern for them.
  • Do what you can to encourage treatment. Your loved one may be resistant to seeking treatment, but you should let them know that you are supportive and will help them to get the treatment they need.
  • Take care of yourself, too. The stress of caregiving will take a toll on you, and you’re likely to need help maintaining your own physical and mental health as you take care of your loved one. Be open with your family and friends about what you’re going through, and let them help. If you need more help, seek out a support group either locally or online.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Suicide Brain Science

Scientists are trying to figure out why some people develop suicidal thoughts and behaviors while other people in similar situations don’t. Of special interest is the role that one particular protein plays in brain function.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that helps in the creation of new nerve cells in the brain and also helps existing nerve cells to survive and function. BDNF has created inside brain cells at the direction of a specific gene referred to as, obviously enough, the BDNF gene.

Decreased levels of BDNF have been linked to the development of many different illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have also discovered that some people possess a variant of the BDNF gene, called the BDNF Met variant, that may be less capable than other variants of producing the BDNF protein. Some scientists have suggested that people with the BDNF Met gene may be at higher risk of developing these illnesses, and at least one study has linked suicidal behavior to the BDNF Met gene, as well.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Suicide Research

Scientists are working on several research projects to expand on what is known about Suicide. The research will improve knowledge about the factors that increase the risk for Suicide, as well as the causes, and best treatments and cures, and will aid people living with Suicide Disorder and their caregivers.

We are currently gathering the information required to support projects such as Combined TMS and Brief Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Suicide Stage: Recruiting, A Novel Cognitive Reappraisal Intervention for Suicide Prevention (CRISP), and Circuit-Based Approach to Suicide: Biomarkers, Predictors, and Novel Therapeutics.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

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