By Karen James, LCSW-C
People in my generation are dying. By their own hands, according to a recent CDC report. Suicide now claims more lives than those lost in motor vehicle accidents. Twice as many people die from suicide than do from homicide. The suicide rate in Americans aged 35 to 64 rose by almost 30% between 1999 and 2010. Why is this happening?
We never know exactly why a suicide occurs. That is part of the tragedy. Survivors are always left with unanswered questions as they grieve and rage over their loss. The reasons and emotions can be very complex, and may never come untangled. But what puts a whole generation at risk?
It may be that the particular “life and times” of the Baby Boomer generation play a role in our higher suicide rates. We were generally born into “plenty” and things were only going to get better. And now, we have experienced a terrible economic downturn that we never expected. At a time of job loss and economic hardship, we are also caring for our aging parents, growing children, and some stumbling young adults. Some of us might even say that we’ve considered suicide as our only “out” from overwhelming circumstances: trauma, shame, humiliation, or terrible loss. With easy access to firearms and strong prescription painkillers, no wonder suicides are increasing.
What can be done? We need to debunk the myths and stereotypes. We need to know what puts someone at risk and recognize the warning signs, and then act to protect ourselves and those we love.
Debunking the Myths
- Only an insane person would ever consider taking his or her own life.
Actually, only a person who sees no way out considers suicide. It is not usually a delusional thought, but instead, it may occur when a person feels overwhelmed by terrible circumstances. A despairing person is not necessarily ill.
- Those who talk about it never do it, or Talking about it is just a cry for help.
Just? It may be a cry that needs to be heard. Survivors almost always realize that there were signs. Suicide talk must be taken seriously and is truly a red flag.
- Don’t bring up the subject of suicide. It will give them the idea to do it.
Talking about suicide does not plant the idea. Instead, talking may create a connection and the outlet for fears and emotions. Do remain aware, though, of patterns of the suicide act itself within communities. This can affect how seriously other people then contemplate it. This is a real risk, especially among adolescents. Talk more, not less, when such tragedies occur. This kind of conversation can actually help someone control their impulses.
- People in our community or our religion would never commit suicide.
Unfortunately they have and they will. No community is untouched. Strong connections and religious beliefs are good protective factors, but even those strengths may not be enough for the despairing individual. All groups, ages and genders are at risk under the wrong circumstances. This remark could also be quite shaming to a distraught person.
What puts a person at risk for committing suicide?
Financial problems, professional setbacks or failures in life can increase the risk, as can other life events such as emotional trauma or loss of a loved one. Serious physical or psychiatric illness, a depressed mood and general feelings of hopelessness can put a person at risk. Dependence on drugs or alcohol, and a history of suicide in the family can also increase the chances.
If you think someone close to you may be at risk for suicide, be especially alert for any of these warning signs:
- Talking about no reason to live or the wish to die
- Withdrawing from friends, family, activities
- Taking unnecessary risks
- Giving away possessions
- Making out a will unexpectedly or “tying up loose ends”
- A feeling of hopelessness, or conversely, seeming suddenly more relaxed after such a period (this could mean the decision has been made)
What can we do to prevent someone from taking his or her life? First, provide support. Feeling connected to others can be a powerful protection against many risks. Kindness and caring have even greater impact on people who are truly hurting. At the same time, someone who is expressing hopelessness and a wish to die really needs help, so urge the person to see a professional counselor. If the situation is heating up, remember that suicidal thoughts are a health emergency. Contact a hotline or a physician, who can provide the information and procedures needed in a crisis. Rather than hesitate, get the person to the hospital.
In “Myths about Suicide,” Thomas Joiner shares personal experience and professional understanding. He says that we may desire and be more at risk for suicide if and when we believe two particular thoughts for too long: “We are a burden in this world,” and “We do not belong.” Fight against this lethal combination in your loved ones.
By Karen James, LCSW-C, Adult Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.
1-800-SUICIDE—1-800-784-2433 – 24-hour national crisis intervention hotline
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline-1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Nationwide network of local crisis centers committed to suicide prevention and intervention (24 hours)
Baltimore County Crisis Response System – Community Hotline 410-931-2214
Telephone triage for mental health needs. Linkage to psychiatric treatment services. Family intervention team. 24 hour
Baltimore Crisis Response – Phone: (410) 433-5175
Area Served: Baltimore City . Provides crisis intervention and addiction treatment services; 24 hour