Sep
24
2022

When is Someone at Risk for Suicide?

We are asking ourselves: When is someone at risk for suicide? This year’s National Suicide Week was from Sept. 4 through 10, 2022. Every day of each year it is important to be aware of signs and symptoms of impending suicide. However, the purpose of the yearly National Suicide Week is to really bring it to everyone’s attention how common deaths by suicides are. We all can contribute to improve the situation by increasing our awareness.

Some suicide statistics

In the US alone nearly 46,000 persons died by suicide in 2020. This means that there is one death by suicide every 11 minutes. In 2020 nearly 800,000 died by suicide worldwide. About 1.2 million attempted it. The hope is that the public will learn through education to recognize the signs of an impending suicide. This way the suicidal person can get counselling and hopefully not commit suicide.

Abnormal behaviors to watch out for  

People who are getting suicidal may practice with guns, overdosing with pills or handle potentially lethal items. Other behavioral red flags could be giving away cherished items. The suicidal person may sleep too much or not enough. Isolation or withdrawal may be another pointer in a previously sociable person that he or she is becoming suicidal. Revenge thinking, reckless driving, agitation can all be pointers as well that the person is preparing for suicide. Justin Baker is the clinical director of The Suicide and Trauma Reduction Initiative for Veterans at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He said: ”A lot of times people need to kind of work up to that actual making an attempt because it’s a biologic thing you have to go against, your own survival”.

Watch what people say

When people become suicidal their words often indicate what they want to do. It is a warning sign, if someone is talking about wanting to die, by suicide or otherwise. Some people state that they feel like they have no reason to live. This is an alarm signal that they may be suicidal. Some people say that they feel like they are a burden for the people living around them. Other problematic statements are: “You don’t need me for this anymore” or “I feel like it’d be better if I just wasn’t here.” Someone uttering statements like these should get counseling. This allows them to vent their feelings and to reassess their situation.

Suicide risk factors

Hopelessness: People may express that they feel the future won’t be any better. Or they do not see a way out of the pain that they are in.

Obsession with death and dying: Some people ruminate about dying and they develop a plan what they may want to do to themselves.  

Extreme mood swings: When somebody who usually is depressed and stressed behaves calm or cheery, this is an alarm sign that the person may be suicidal. They may have struggled with their decision to kill themselves, but when they accepted that this is what they want to do it calms their mind.

Past trauma: Abuse, trauma and neglect in the past are risk factors for suicide in the future.

Drug abuse: substance abuse predisposes a person towards being suicidal later on in life.

More suicide risk factors

Severe chronic illness with chronic pain: when a person has a chronic illness, and it is difficult to treat, people lose hope and they feel trapped. At this point suicide appears to be an option.

Mental disorders: people with schizophrenia, anxiety, depression or personality disorders are at a higher risk to turn suicidal. This is particularly so when they did not receive treatment and their mental condition deteriorates.

Family history, other factors and teen suicides

Family history of suicide: when there is a family history of suicide or a personal history of failed attempt of suicides the risk of suicide is much bigger than in the general population.

Other factors: There are many more factors that all can have a bearing on the risk for suicide. Financial loss and loss of a job are examples, but also prolonged stress from bullying or harassment. Divorce, breakup of a relationship, insufficient social support and many other negative emotions can contribute to a risk for suicide as well. A lot depends on the emotional make-up and the resilience of a person.

Teens: Teens are particularly vulnerable to commit suicide. It is important to listen to the teen in trouble and to arrange for counseling and support. More on teen suicide here.

What to do when faced with a person who contemplates suicide?

There are several crisis phones that are important to remember. In 2019 congress in the US has proposed to establish crisis lines with a simple 3-digit number: 988. But not all states have this number activated yet. The national crisis line in the US is: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

In Canada the crisis hotline is: 1-833-456-4566.

There are counselors who have experience in listening to people in distress and talk to them.

When a person wants to commit suicide call 911. Sometimes a person in mental distress needs to be hospitalized and treated by a psychiatrist. Some people may benefit from electroconvulsive therapy, others from antidepressants. Cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy have a place as well in treating depressed patients. Close follow-up is important to prevent a relapse.

When is Someone at Risk for Suicide?

When is Someone at Risk for Suicide?

Conclusion

This year’s National Suicide Week was from Sept. 4 through 10, 2022. In the US alone nearly 46,000 persons died by suicide in 2020, nearly 800,000 died by suicide worldwide. It is important to recognize the signs of impending suicide. There are several high-risk factors that point to impending suicide, such as hopelessness, obsession with death and dying and extreme mood swings. There are certain constellations that are associated with a high risk for suicide: a history of a mental disorder, a break-up of a relationship, a severe illness with chronic pain and others. It is important to get the person at risk to a counselor or psychiatrist.

Treatment intervention for suicidal person

By talking it out, the pain of suffering gets eased. If there is an underlying depression it can be treated with various treatment modalities. Cognitive behavior therapy may help to change the negative thought patterns. It is important to intervene early. Close follow-up to prevent a relapse is also important.

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Sep
19
2021

World Suicide Prevention Day is on September 10

A CNN article points out that world suicide prevention day is on September 10.

Some statistics regarding suicides

According to the WHO more than 700,000 People die from suicide every year.

In the US suicide rates have risen between 1999 and 2018. President Joe Biden stated: “In 2019, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 34.”

This was further underlined by a study from the CDC. It pointed out the emergency room visits started to climb in May 2020 for attempted suicide in youth. The CDC stated: “The mean weekly number of these visits was 26.2% higher during summer 2020 and 50.6% higher during winter 2021 compared with the corresponding periods in 2019”.

Triggering factors that make people commit suicide

Suicidal thoughts start when a vulnerable person encounters stressful events. The life situation can become so painful that in their way of thinking suicide is the only way to stop the pain. There are huge differences of opinions: what may be meaningless to one person, may feel devastating to another.

Common triggering factors are as follows.

  • Illness and physical discomfort
  • Conflicts with family or friends
  • Illness of family members
  • Death of family member or friend
  • Loneliness

In a study 50% expressed two of these 5 triggers, 37.5% expressed one of the 5 triggers. 12.5% expressed three of the 5 triggers.

With the Covid-19 epidemic there are new pressures on people. They cannot freely move around or travel. He/she may have lost a friend or relative to Covid. And people may be anxious about their own survival. I described this here before.

Biochemical changes in the brain with depression

In the past low serotonin levels in the brain were thought to be the main cause of depression. But researchers realized later those medications that increased serotonin levels did not always help depression. They found that dopamine and norepinephrine are also important brain transmitters that play a role in depression. When dopamine levels are low, depression occurs. Similarly, when norepinephrine is low, the patient can develop depression. On the other hand, in bipolar disorder the brain produces too much norepinephrine, which causes manic episodes. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-chemistry-of-depression-1065137 The physician needs to take a thorough history and note from that which brain transmitter system would be mainly affected. This helps the physician later to decide which antidepressant to choose from to rebalance the brain transmitters.

How to detect stress signals

There are a number of risk factors, which the CDC has outlined, for which the health professional or a family member wants to look in order to assess the suicide risk.

Does the patient have a history?

People with a mood or anxiety disorder, or with an alcohol or substance abuse disorder are at a higher risk of developing depression and suicide.

Did the person experience a loss?

A loss can be a death in the family, a loss of a job or the loss of an important person in a relationship. This is particularly bad when there is social isolation and a lack of support. With Covid-19 millions of people have suffered the loss of a job, social isolation and having to quarantine.

Is it easy for the distressed person to get a gun?

Firearms are a common means for people to kill themselves. When there is easy access to a gun, there is a high probability that the person uses it in times of distress.

History of previous suicide attempt

When a person attempted to commit suicide, but failed, there is a higher risk for them to repeat a suicide attempt and succeed. Also, there is a copycat phenomenon when the news comes out that a famous personality committed suicide. For instance, when the comedian Robin Williams committed suicide in 2014 there was a 10% rise in suicides in the following months all over the US.

Belief system that honours personal sacrifice

Some religious or cultural groups consider suicide a noble solution to a personal dilemma.

A person from this background is at a much higher risk to commit suicide.

Warning signs of pending suicide attempt

There are a number warning signs that point to a higher risk of possibly planning suicide.

  • A person may talk about wanting to die or kill themselves.
  • Searching online for ways to kill oneself or buying a gun.
  • Feeling trapped or feeling unbearable pain.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless and having no reason to live.
  • Stating that they feel they are a burden to others.
  • Drinking more alcohol and using more drugs.
  • Acting agitated or anxious. Reckless behavior.
  • A person withdrawing or isolating themselves.
  • A person sleeping too much or too little.
  • Extreme mood swings.
  • Talking about seeking revenge or showing rage.

These are all red flags that should alarm you to ask for help. Not all of these alarm signs are present all the time with people who are considering to attempt suicide. When you have suicidal thoughts in the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. For Spanish crisis support call: 888-628-9454.

World Suicide Prevention Day is on September 10

World Suicide Prevention Day is on September 10

Conclusion

World suicide prevention day is on September 10. This reminds us every year that suicide is a colossal problem of society. Stress, loss of health, losing a loved one, a broken marriage and financial loss can all contribute to depression. If patients with mental distress do not receive timely intervention and treatment, the life situation can become so painful that in the patient’s way of thinking suicide is the only way to stop the pain. The key is for the loved ones in the circle of friends to pay attention to the warning signs and bring the suicidal person to the attention of the psychiatric health professionals. Sometimes an in-patient admission to a psychiatric facility may be required to interrupt the negative thinking pattern. Ignoring the warning signs can have devastating consequences. Prevention is the only way to avoid suicide.

Nov
28
2020

Mental Illness and Covid-19

A topic less discussed is mental illness and Covid-19. Covid-19 has been noticeably around us since March of 2020. With the various social distancing and quarantining methods people become more or less isolated emotionally. Social gatherings are outlawed depending on where you live. This helps to interrupt the spread of the virus, but it makes people feel more stressed as their relationships get interrupted.

Symptoms of stress

The CDC sums up that stress during a pandemic can cause the following:

  • Fear of your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Loss of your job or financial support
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Changes in sleep pattern with lack in concentration
  • Increase in use of tobacco, alcohol or other substance consumption
  • Chronic health problems may deteriorate
  • Worsening of Mental health conditions

The more isolated we are, the more stress we feel. This undermines our stress coping mechanisms, makes us more anxious and more depressed.

Develop coping skills

Taking care of your family and friends may relieve your stress, but it needs to be balanced by taking care of yourself. Although you are physically isolated from others when you are in quarantine, you can stay in contact with others by phone or video chats. This makes you less lonely and isolated.

Take care of yourself. This includes eating well balanced meals, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. Avoid the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Share with a family member or friend how you feel. Maintain friendships through the phone, emails, social media and computer chats. This builds a strong support system for you.

Avoid too much exposure to news stories. Seeing negative stories about Covid-19 over and over again can be undermining, so take a break from the news media. Go for a walk. Take a nap.

Suicide

Sometimes depression can get out of control to the point of driving a person to the brink of suicide. In the US major depression is the leading cause of disability for ages 15-44.  At any given year 16.1 million American adults (about 6.7% of the U.S. population age 18 and older) suffer from major depression. 10.3% of Americans have thought about suicide. If you feel that way, do not act on this impulse. Call 1-800-799-4889. That is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline & Chat.

Medical literature about the psychological impact of Covid-19

In a July 2020 publication the authors pointed out that Covid-19 infection is a significant psychological stressor. There is the fear of getting the virus and uncertainty about the future. Pre-existing anxiety and depression disorders get accelerated from the stress. In addition, mental disorders like schizophrenia with psychosis may worsen. This may require more antipsychotic medication to control it.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found in March 2020 that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a major impact on US citizens. 45% of respondents said that the pandemic has affected their mental wellbeing significantly. If you are scared, depressed or anxious, you are tense and you have problems falling asleep, you are not alone. You can seek and receive help!

Prevention of mental disease from Covid-19

Here is some practical advice from the World Health Organization.

  • Stay informed.
  • Have a daily routine. Get up and go to sleep at regular times. Eat healthy balanced meals. Exercise regularly. Have your work routine and also find time to rest. Do things that you enjoy.
  • Watch the news only to be informed, but limit news watching to a minimum. This will keep anxiety and depression in check.
  • Stay in contact with close friends by phone and computer technology.
  • Keep your alcohol consumption low. If you did not drink before at all, don’t start drinking in an attempt to deal with boredom, fear, anxiety or social isolation.
  • Take breaks from screen time. This reduces tension.
  • Video games: doing this may relax you for a short time. But longer video game activities can make you tense; you should balance this with the rest of your daily activities.
  • Social media. Use this for honest communication. Keep it brief. If you see misinformation, point out the truth.
  • Helping others: if you can, help others in the community with shopping or other chores.

Treatment for Mental disease from Covid-19

When you notice anxiety, depression or a flare-up of psychotic symptoms from schizophrenia, it is important to see your health professional right away. You may need some counselling. Others may need an antidepressant (for depression) or an adjustment to your antipsychotic medication. Some patients with milder depression or anxiety may benefit from cognitive/behavioral therapy. Most importantly, know that help is available! More info about cognitive therapy for suicide prevention.

Mental Illness and Covid-19

Mental Illness and Covid-19

Conclusion

Mental illness and Covid-19 is a huge topic. People definitely have experienced more anxiety and depression since the Covid-19 epidemic. This is because our lifestyle is suddenly restricted. We may have to go through a 14-day quarantine. But we also cannot participate in large gatherings with more than 50 people. Often, we have to wear masks in stores. In areas with high cases of Covid-19 there is also a severe restriction regarding with whom you can visit, leading to feelings of isolation. All of this can lead to mental illness. Essentially there are two ways of coping with this. First, we need to get a routine that makes us more resistant to mental illness. Secondly, if this fails, seek the advice of a health professional right away.

Seek mental illness treatment right away

When you catch mental illness early, it is much easier to treat. Milder cases of depression or anxiety may benefit from cognitive/behavioral therapy. More severe cases often require medication. In this outline I have discussed mental illness during the Covid-19 epidemic. I have not discussed the cases where people came down with Covid-19 coronavirus and got affected in their brain function from the virus. These cases need treatment by a neurologist and psychiatrist, and they are much more complicated.

Aug
01
2005

Cognitive Therapy Useful For Suicide Prevention

A prospective study was done involving 120 adults over 18 months with evaluations at 1, 3, 6, 12, and 18 months involving patients who had attempted to commit suicide before entering the study. The purpose of the study was to find out whether cognitive therapy could make a difference in the suicide or suicide attempt rate in the months following an attempt. Several parameters were measured using scales of hopelessness, symptom of depression, frequency of suicidal thoughts and recording repeat suicidal attempts.

The results showed that there was a significant difference between the regular treatment group and the group where cognitive therapy was given. The subsequent suicide attempt rate in the regular treatment group was 1.97-fold higher than in the cognitive therapy group over the 18 months treatment and observation period. 76% of the cognitive therapy treated group did not attempt to commit suicide again (free of repeat suicide attempt), whereas in the regular treatment group this figure was down to 58%. At 6, 12 and 18 moths a depression assessment showed that the cognitive therapy group had a significantly lower (meaning “better”) score than the regular treatment group. This was also reflected in the statistics showing a 50% less likely rate of repeat suicide attempts in the cognitive therapy group. Feelings of hopelessness were also significantly lower in the cognitive therapy group, but interestingly enough there was no significant difference between suicidal thoughts in the cognitive therapy group versus the regular treatment group.

Cognitive Therapy Useful For Suicide Prevention

Cognitive Therapy Useful For Suicide Prevention

The authors came to the conclusion that cognitive therapy is an effective treatment modality, which helps preventing further suicide attempts, in patients who recently have attempted to commit a suicide.

More info on suicide and suicide prevention: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/suicide-suicide-prevention/

Reference: JAMA. 2005;294:563-570

Last edited October 29, 2014