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Suicide is a leading cause of death that is highly preventable. Family members and friends can help people who are contemplating suicide by recognizing the common warning signs, staying by their side, and seeking help to save their lives.

Vincent van Gogh, Adolf Hitler, Cleopatra, Virginia Woolf, and Robin Williams all have something in common – they were popular in their own right, and no one would have suspected they would end their own lives the way they did. In fact, there is a long list of people whose lives ended too soon, such that suicide is now considered as the tenth leading cause of death in America. Unfortunately, among young adults and adolescents, it is one of the three leading causes of death.

What Causes Suicidal Behavior?

There are many possible reasons why people willingly take their lives. Research shows that 95% of suicides are associated with some form of mental illness, which includes depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and substance abuse, delirium, phobias, and dementia.

Men are more likely to die by suicide (79%), but records show that more women attempt to kill themselves.

A family history of suicide also increases the risk of another family member committing a similar act. Other factors that are linked to suicide include the following:

  • Certain medications, including antidepressants, anticonvulsants and pain medications

  • Serious physical illness, such as cancer or kidney failure

  • Life experiences, including loss of a loved one, bullying, or sexual violence

  • Poverty and economic instability

  • Availability of firearms, which constitute more than half of all means of completing suicide attempts

  • Influence of media and internet

  • Other factors like sleep problems, lack of daylight, incarceration, hospitalization, and more

Studies show that suicide is more common among people with lighter skin color (i.e, whites) than among people with darker skin (i.e, blacks). Historically, suicide was more common among adolescents and older adults (75 years or older). A recent study involving elderly people (65-75 years old) revealed that some of them had suicidal thoughts which were triggered by their struggles with disability, illness, financial problems, family concerns and bereavement. However, in recent years, experts have seen a significant rise in suicide rates among people ages 35-64 years.

Among people with various occupations, it was found that those with access to guns such as policemen, military personnel, and firefighters had the highest risk of suicide.

In addition, physicians, dentists and medical students also have a high rate of suicide.

What Are the Warning Signs?

Studies show that about 75% of people who kill themselves exhibited some warning signs of wanting to harm themselves. Nine out of ten victims are severely depressed, and some of them have a substance abuse problem or a combination of mental problems.

Doctors usually look for these warning signs in people who are likely to kill themselves:

  • They think, talk about, and make a clear statement that they plan to kill themselves.

  • They exhibit a pattern of behavior that suggest they are leaving, such as writing a will, saying goodbye to loved ones, making funeral arrangements, writing suicide notes, etc.

  • They have a history of substance abuse.

  • They have access to a handgun or firearm.

  • They live alone or are isolated.

  • They suffer from depression.

  • They suffer from unbearable anxiety.

  • They have just experienced a great loss (divorce, death of a loved one, or job loss)

  • They have a strong family history of suicide.

  • They have a mental illness and have just been discharged from a psychiatric hospital.

  • They experience a powerful message to commit suicide (command hallucination).

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Medscape. Suicide. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2013085-overview
  • New York Times. Many Problems Lead to Thoughts of Suicide, Study Finds. http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/01/many-problems-lead-to-thoughts-of-suicide-study-finds/?ref=research
  • WebMD. Recognize the Warning Signs of Suicide. http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-recognizing-signs-of-suicide Suicide.org. How to Help a Suicidal Person. http://www.suicide.org/how-to-help-a-suicidal-person.html
  • Photo courtesy of Jayson by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/musicalgenius/8011287649
  • Photo courtesy of Jared Keener by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/jaredmayfire/9723708930
  • medscape.com
  • nytimes.com
  • www.webmd.com
  • www.suicide.org