Suicide: Faces We See, Hearts We Cannot Know…1

The recent suicide of actor Robin Williams is a tragic reminder of one of our society’s epidemics. Many have been left wondering, “How can such a talented and funny man end his life?” Robin Williams’ struggles with substance use and mental illness may have been public but, like many people around the world, his private turmoil and demons won the battle.

According to the latest data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide represented the tenth leading cause of death in the United States in 2011. If this were not alarming enough, suicide was the second leading cause of death among our teenagers and young adults (ages 15 to 34).

Recognition of warning signs, early prevention, and immediate assistance for anyone who expresses thoughts of suicide or attempts suicide are of great importance.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WARNING SIGNS?

Many warning signs for suicidal behavior are similar to symptoms of depression:

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Behavioral changes
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable or enjoyable activities
  • Poor hygiene
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Giving away or throwing out objects of personal value
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Talk/verbal threats of suicide
  • Suddenly recovering from a period of depression (maybe after having decided to put an end to their suffering by ending their life)
Even in the presence of all these warning signs, it is extremely difficult to predict with certainty who will attempt suicide. We do know that the most important risk factor for the prediction of suicide is past suicidal behavior. In other words, a past suicide attempt is the best predictor of a future suicidal act.

RISK FACTORS FOR SUICIDAL BEHAVIOR:

Risk factors for suicide vary greatly from person to person depending on the severity of mental illness, personality strengths and vulnerabilities, and support system. The following list is not meant to be all-inclusive.

  • Sudden stressful life events (i.e. humiliating events, financial ruin, job loss, death of a loved one)
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Economic problems
  • Legal problems
  • Mental illness
  • Medical problems (acute and chronic)
  • Intractable physical pain
  • Poor support system

WHAT CAN WE DO TO PREVENT SUICIDE?

It is important to recognize the above warning signs and risk factors as well as the symptoms of mental illness and alcohol/drug abuse. Early intervention is the most effective way to prevent suicide. Any statement of suicidal thoughts or suicidal behavior must be taken seriously. Anyone who expresses thoughts of suicide requires immediate medical evaluation.

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF SUICIDE ON THE SURVIVORS?

The effects of suicide on friends and family can be devastating. People who lose a loved one to suicide tend to feel guilty for the death of their family member or friend, wonder what they could have done to prevent it, and may even feel rejected by others.

Suicide survivors may experience:

  • Sadness for their loss
  • Anger towards the deceased family member
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder, especially when a witness to the suicide or finding the family member after a completed suicide
  • Suicide attempts to reconnect with their lost loved one
As the aftermath of family suicide may have long lasting effects, it is important for survivors of suicide to seek help in dealing with their loss.

HOW TO HELP?

Anyone who expresses thoughts of suicide or attempts suicide should be evaluated immediately:

  • Calling 911,
  • Taking the person (yourself) to the nearest emergency room, or
  • Looking for help from a mental health professional
Psychotherapy and counseling can help the suicidal person deal with his/her feelings or negative thoughts, identify stressors, and strengthen coping skills. Psychiatric medications may also control symptoms of depression, anxiety or any other mental health condition.

Help is also available through telephone hotlines. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255) is an excellent source of support. It is for people in crisis, not just when thinking about suicide. The call is free and confidential and a mental health professional will be available to listen to you and provide information about mental health services in your community.

There is no shame in seeking help and it can save your life!

Remember…

Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Healthy. Be Strong.

Until next time!

Dr. Felix

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