This week is Suicide Prevention Week, an opportunity to bring attention to and examine the rising rate of suicide in the US. Suicide can be a difficult topic to discuss. For many, it is a raw and upsetting subject that evokes memories of thoughts or events they would rather leave in the past. How each person interacts with discussions and campaigns around suicide is personal and should be respected. Here, we will explore the rise of suicide in the US, the stigma surrounding it, and the process of recovering from a suicide attempt.
Suicide Rates Rise Around The World
The overall global death toll from suicide has risen by nearly 20,000 over the past 30 years. Despite accounting for nearly 800,000 deaths every year, suicide hasn’t received the level of attention given to other global public health issues. Each of these deaths represents a tragedy that causes immeasurable, long-lasting pain to family and loved ones left behind. According to the World Health Organization, suicide rates are highest in countries struggling with financial instability, with seventy-seven percent of global suicides occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Africa has the highest suicide rate of any continent, with the small nation of Lesotho recording the highest rate worldwide – particularly in women who face harsh treatment and high rates of gender-based violence.
The US has the worst suicide rate of any nation in the West, suffering a suicide every 20 minutes. Its rate is far higher than developed nations like France, Sweden, and the UK, and it is thought that high levels of gun violence and a worsening mental health crisis are significant contributors to the US’s position as an outlier among Western nations.
The suicide rate in the United States, like in many other countries, is influenced by a complex interplay of social, economic, cultural, and individual factors. Loneliness, political instability, financial concerns, and the widespread psychological fallout from the pandemic are among the reasons attributed to the rising rates of suicide deaths in the US. While it’s essential to recognize that no single factor can fully explain the increase in suicide rates, several contributing factors have been identified:
Mental Health Issues: Mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, are significant risk factors for suicide. These conditions can distort a person’s perception of reality and future prospects, which leads to feelings of hopelessness and intense despair. The stigma surrounding mental health care can prevent individuals from seeking help, and limited access to mental health services can further exacerbate the problem.
Economic Factors: Economic challenges, such as job loss, financial instability, and poverty, can increase stress levels and lead to feelings of helplessness. Economic downturns can reduce opportunities for stable employment and financial security, increasing the risk of suicide as individuals struggle to cope with their circumstances.
Social Isolation: In today’s increasingly digital world, people might have many online connections but few meaningful in-person relationships. Social isolation and loneliness can be profoundly detrimental to mental health. Humans are inherently social beings, and lack of social interaction can contribute to depression and other mental health disorders.
Access to Lethal Means: Easy access to lethal means, particularly firearms, is a significant concern. Firearms are a common method of suicide and are highly lethal. Restricting access to firearms, especially for individuals at risk, can have a substantial impact on reducing suicide rates.
Substance Abuse: Substance abuse and addiction are closely linked to mental health issues and can exacerbate the risk of suicide. Drugs and alcohol can impair judgment, increase impulsivity, and magnify underlying emotional distress, which makes individuals more likely to act on suicidal thoughts.
Cultural and Societal Factors: Gender norms and societal expectations can play a role in suicide rates. Men, for example, might be less likely to seek help due to societal pressures to appear strong and self-reliant. Addressing these cultural expectations and promoting open discussions about mental health can reduce barriers to seeking help.
Access to Healthcare: Limited access to healthcare, including mental health services, can be a barrier to receiving proper treatment. High costs, lack of insurance coverage, and shortages of mental health professionals in certain areas can prevent individuals from getting the care they need.
Stress and Trauma: Exposure to chronic stress or traumatic events, such as combat experiences, physical or sexual abuse, or the loss of a loved one, can lead to psychological distress. Without proper coping mechanisms and support, these experiences can increase the risk of suicide.
Crisis in the Wake of Major Life Events: Major life events like divorce, job loss, or the death of a loved one can create emotional upheaval and distress. For some individuals, these events can reach a crisis point, where they may feel overwhelmed and unable to cope.
Stigma About Suicide
Stigma is still an enormous issue when it comes to mental health, substance use, and suicide in the US. Many people are unable to talk about the issues they are facing for fear of judgment and wide-ranging repercussions in their social, educational, and employment spheres.
The stigma around mental health care can discourage individuals from seeking treatment. Promoting open conversations about mental health, sharing personal stories of recovery, and showcasing successful individuals who have sought help can reduce this stigma.
After a suicide attempt, it can be difficult to know what to do or where to turn. Know there is no shame in asking for help. Self-care after a suicide attempt is crucial for your well-being and recovery. Creating both short- and long-term plans can provide structure, guidance, and a sense of purpose during this challenging time.
Immediate Safety: Focus on your immediate safety. Seek medical attention if needed, and ensure you’re in a safe environment.
Support System: Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional who can offer emotional support.
Professional Help: Connect with mental health professionals to assess your situation, develop a treatment plan, and address any underlying issues.
Safety Plan: Collaborate with mental health experts to create a safety plan that outlines coping strategies, emergency contacts, and steps to take when struggling.
Self-Care: Engage in self-care activities that bring you comfort.
Therapy and Treatment: Continue attending therapy sessions and following the treatment plan recommended by mental health professionals.
Routine: Establish a daily routine that includes structured activities and regular social interactions to promote a sense of purpose.
Support Network: Cultivate a strong support network. Share your experiences with those you trust and lean on them for emotional support.
Personal Goals: Set achievable personal goals, and work towards them, whether they’re related to hobbies, education, well-being, or career aspirations.
Crisis Management: Stay familiar with your safety plan and update it as needed. Know the signs that indicate you might need extra support.
Wellness Practices: Incorporate stress-reduction techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga into your routine.
Remember that recovery is a journey, and it’s okay to seek help along the way. Reach out to mental health professionals, support groups, or crisis hotlines when needed.
Suicide Safety Plan
A suicide safety plan can save lives by providing individuals at risk with a structured framework to manage their emotions and impulses during moments of crisis.
First and foremost, a safety plan empowers individuals to recognize the warning signs of an impending crisis. By identifying triggers, thoughts, and emotions that precede such moments, people at risk can gain a heightened self-awareness that can help them intervene before reaching a critical point. The plan suggests coping techniques, fostering a sense of agency through alternatives to suicide, and emphasizing professional help by listing mental health contacts.
Incorporating a safety plan reinforces the idea that there are alternatives to suicide—practical strategies that can provide relief and a renewed sense of hope. By providing step-by-step actions and trusted contacts, the plan acts as a lifeline in dark moments, fosters a sense of control, and reinforces the value of life. A suicide safety plan embodies the value of life and the importance of proactive self-care, which are indispensable in suicide prevention and promoting mental well-being.
Supporting Someone who has Just Attempted Suicide
Supporting someone who has just attempted suicide requires compassion, sensitivity, and understanding. First, ensure their immediate safety by seeking medical help if necessary. Offer a calm and non-judgmental presence, and allow them to express their feelings without pressure. Listen actively and without interruption when they’re ready to talk.
Encourage them to seek professional help, such as therapists or counselors, and offer to help them find appropriate resources. Respect their pace in discussing the experience and emotions. Share your concern for their well-being and let them know they’re not alone. Offer to accompany them to appointments or engage in activities they find comforting. Be patient and stay connected, even if they need space.
While supporting them, also prioritize your own well-being. It’s okay to seek guidance from mental health professionals or support groups. Remember that your presence and empathy can play a significant role in their recovery journey.
Contact The Samaritans anonymously, available 24 hours. Call 116 123 or text SHOUT to 85258.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255