Talk With the Doc

Action is needed if suicide is threatened

Jim Surrell, MD, Journal columnist

With the recent tragic news about several major internationally known celebrities committing suicide, there are new reports being released about the alarming world wide rate of suicide today.

Here is the most recent data regarding suicide from the USA National Institutes of Health. Current research shows that mental illnesses are common in the United States, affecting millions of people each year. Further, the NIH estimates that perhaps only half of people with mental illnesses receive treatment. Of course, the consequences of untreated mental illness may include suicide, and untreated mental illness may also lead to personal disability.

Here is the latest data reported from the NIH. In 2016, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people. Specifically, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54. Further, the NIH reported that in 2016, there were more than twice as many suicides (44,965) in the United States as there were homicides (19,362).

Additional assessment of the data also showed that suicide rates were reported to be about three to four times higher in males than in females.

One of the most profound things I learned early in medical school is that if a health care provider, a friend or acquaintance, or a family member has any suspicion that a person is considering suicide, they should ask that person if they are considering taking their own life and open this discussion without any delay. Unfortunately, there is some very bad advice out there that if there is any suspicion that a person is considering suicide, you should not mention it to them, as this may give them the idea of committing suicide. This is absolutely horrible advice and the worst action we can possibly take. If there is any suspicion of a possible suicide, it needs to be brought up and discussed to offer help and support for that person right away. If any individual is having some private suicide thoughts, they should seek help right away, and be certain to share this very significant information with a loved one, a trusted friend, or with their health care provider. Substantial help is certainly available.

If a person is in crisis, and having suicide thoughts, there is a very helpful toll free phone service available. They should call, or be strongly advised to call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), where trained helpers are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone, and all calls are kept completely confidential. Their associated website is www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Be aware that Sept. 10, 2018, is World Suicide Prevention Day. The International Association for Suicide Prevention’s theme for the 2018 World Suicide Prevention Day is “Take a minute, change a life.” There is a very informative website where one can learn much more about suicide prevention, including learning the warning signs of suicide, and much more potentially life-saving information. This website can be found at www.take5tosavelives.org.