(Trigger Warning- Description of Suicide and Depression)
In the United States, depression and attempted suicides are at a higher number than AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined, with nearly 400,000 people attempting suicide in the U.S. every year.
But even though it is prevalent, some still do not consider depression as a ‘real’ illness, and often sweep suicide under the rug.
Health talked with mental health experts and providers to debunk, and provide more information; on depression and suicide — including who is at greater risk, why, and when sufferers are the most vulnerable.
Suicides peak during holidays (Myth)
According to Dr. Marcia Valenstein, MD, research scientist at the Department of Veterans Affairs Helath Services Research & Development Service, that there is a time in a year where suicides are common, but surprisingly, it isn’t during the dark and cold winter months.
Suicides are apparently lowest in December and peak in the spring.
There’s no clear reason why, but Dr. Valenstein theorizes it could have something to do with changing levels of natural light.
“It could be that they have more energy to attempt suicide,” she said.
Suicide rates climb with altitude (Fact)
The higher the elevation of a person’s home, the higher the risk of suicide, apparently.
Suicide rates are about 70% higher in regions 2,000 meters in elevation, for example, compared to at sea level.
Researchers found that even with factors like gun ownership and lower population density, the effect still held true.
Teens are at greatest risk (Myth)
Teenage suicides make headlines, but the elderly are more likely to take their own life than any other age group, says Dr. Valenstein.
Caucasian men over the age of 85 are at a particularly high risk too, having a suicide rate of 49.8 deaths per 100,000, compared with about 14 per 100,000 in people over 65, and 11 per 100,000 in the general population.
However, teenagers remain the high risk groups, with one in five high school students saying they’ve considered suicide last year, with 1 in 12 in the age group making attempts to take their life.
The suicide rate for 15- to 19-year-olds is 6.9 per 100,000.
Caucasians attempt suicide more often than other races (Fact)
Dr. Valenstein said the possible reasons for an increased risk of suicide in Caucasians in the US is the ‘differences in social support.’
Apparently, the only group more prone to suicide is Native Americans or Alaskan Natives, who have a suicide rate of 14.3 per 100,000 compared to 13.5 per 100,000 for whites and about 5 to 6 per 100,000 for other groups.
Writing style is linked to suicide risk (Fact)
There has long been a link to creativity, depression and suicide, and unsurprisingly, history’s most prolific artists and creatives have suffered from mental illnesses.
Depression affected great minds such as writers Charles Dickens, John Keats, and Tennessee Williams.
Famous writers like Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and David Foster Wallace committed suicide, and research on their habits and writing style found they all wrote in the first person, which has been suggested to be a sign of suicide risk.
Depression is always the cause of suicide (Myth)
Valenstein said that two of every three people who commit suicide are depressed at the time they take their life, but alcoholism was found to play a role in 1 in 3 completed suicides.
Major depression is the psychiatric diagnosis most commonly associated with suicide, with about 20 times the risk found in the general population.
“With much more active screening and treatment, depression carries less of a stigma now, but it remains one of the big risk factors for suicide,” says Dr. Valenstein.
Family history is a factor (Fact)
A family history of depression increases the chances of a child inheriting the illness by a factor of 11.
But families and their immediate social circle play a significant role in preventing suicide, as a strong support networks lowers their odds.
Poor countries have higher suicide rates (Myth)
Richer, more developed countries have higher suicide rates than developing nations.
Health reported that some of the lowest rates can be found in Latin American countries, such as Brazil and the Dominican Republic, while richer countries (based on their GDP per capita), like Russia, Japan, and France, are among the highest. These nations report numbers between two and three times as high as the U.S.
In Russia for example, approximately 54 of every 100,000 men commit suicide every year, but the region’s high rates of alcohol consumption may also be a factor.
Most suicide attempts fail (Fact)
Dr. Valenstein said their data showed on average, only 1 in every 10 to 25 suicide attempts result in death.
To further lower that rate, Dr. Valenstein suggests “taking away the means.”
“Make sure people you’re concerned about don’t have stockpiles of meds or access to guns,” she says.
“You want to make it difficult for them to enact a persistent suicidal thought.”
Suicide is more common than in the past (Myth)
While suicides rates in America have remained relatively consistent in the past several decades, there is a possibility it has slightly decreased.
But youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are more than twice as likely to commit suicide today compared to 50 years ago.
The World Health Organization provided too that globally, suicide rates have increased by about 60% in the last 45 years.
Treatment cuts suicide risk (Fact)
“There are not a lot of ways to prevent suicide at this point,” says Dr. Valenstein, adding that successful treatment of any ‘underlying psychiatric disorder’ is important and can reduce suicidal thoughts, particularly among the elderly.
She added that a common concern during the first week of therapy was that antidepressants can actually raise the risk of suicide among patients under the age of 25.
“If you successfully treat depression,” notes Dr. Valenstein, “suicidal ideation declines.”
Suicides can trigger “copy cat” attempts (Fact)
Unfortunately, exposure to others who have committed suicide may “reduce some of the barriers to people thinking of doing it,” says Dr. Valenstein.
She points out that this link has helped rewrite rules in journalistic reporting. Now, journalists refrain from going into detail or sensationalizing deaths brought about by suicide.
“They usually finish up any story with a reference to a hotline so that distressed people reading it will reach out for help rather than being tempted to emulate,” Dr. Valenstein adds.
Fewer people are calling hotlines (Myth)
Reaching out for help is the first step in preventing suicides, and among the most accessible is using a suicide hotline.
Use of this support has been on the rise among veterans in recent years in response to increased publicity, says Dr. Valenstein.
Veterans can call the general hotline at 800-273-TALK and press “1”.
“But anyone can call the hotline for advice, even if they are worried about someone else,” adds Dr. Valenstein.
Suicides are more common on weekends (Myth)
A yet to be published study of Dr. Valenstein and her colleagues found that suicides commonly fell on Mondays.
“I would assume that the start of the work week is a more stressful time for people,”said Dr. Valenstein, but added it wasn’t conclusive yet.
Men are at greater risk (Fact)
While three times more women than men attempt suicide, four times more men than women actually kill themselves, said Dr. Valenstein.
In the US, more than half of suicides are committed with the use of guns. This violent and usually irreversible route is the choice of most men. However, Dr. Valenstein adds, the most common method among women is poisoning, typically an overdose of medication, the result of which is less often lethal.
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