Tag Archives: psychology

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.


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 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


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.


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.


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!


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

Until next time!

Dr. Felix

Simply Irresistible? – Impulse Control Disorders

Luis Suárez, soccer player with the Uruguay National Team representing his country at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, has recently gained some notoriety. Not so much for his abilities as a soccer player but for the bite seen around the world. And this is reportedly the third time in his career when he has bitten an opponent on the field. The unsportsmanlike behavior has left many soccer enthusiasts wondering, what is wrong with Suárez?

One of the mental health diagnoses being thrown around by sports commentators, and even mental health experts, has been that of impulse control disorder. While displaying aggression at the height of a stressful event, like biting another human being, may be characteristic of a lack of impulse control, making a diagnosis without evaluating a person, whether a public figure or not, is neither responsible nor ethical. But since the topic has been on the news, I think it is important to have a discussion about impulse control disorders, how they manifest, and how to treat them.

First of all, impulse control disorder is not an actual diagnosis recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Together with disruptive and conduct disorders, they describe a set of different diagnoses characterized by “problems in the self-control of emotions and behaviors,”1 which include oppositional defiant disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, pyromania, and kleptomania. These disorders involve the violation of the rights of others and/or “bring the individual into significant conflict with societal norms or authority figures.”2 They tend to be more common in males than females, initially manifest in childhood or early teenage years, and are generally rare.

Here is a brief overview of these disorders, all of which must cause distress in the individual or impairment in his/her level of functioning:

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Usually begins in preschool years.

How common: About 3.3%.3

Signs/Symptoms: Frequent loss of temper, anger/resentfulness, arguments with authority figures, defiance of rules, blaming others for mistakes/misbehavior, vindictiveness.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Usually begins in late childhood or adolescence.

How common: About 2.7%.4

Signs/Symptoms: Behavioral outbursts characterized by a failure to control aggressive impulses and manifested through verbal aggression, damage/destruction of property, or physical injury against others/animals. The outbursts cannot be premeditated and are grossly out of proportion to any provocation or stressor.

Conduct Disorder

Usually begins in mid-childhood to mid-adolescence.

How common: About 4%.5

Signs/Symptoms: Violation of the rights of others or society norms/rules manifested by bullying/intimidation of others, use of a weapon that can cause serious harm, physical cruelty towards people or animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness, theft, and serious violations of rules.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Never diagnosed before age 18 but symptoms of conduct disorder must be present before age 15.

How common: 0.2 to 3.3%.6

Signs/Symptoms: “Pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others”7 manifested by unlawful behavior, deceitfulness, impulsivity, irritability/aggressiveness, reckless disregard for safety, consistent irresponsibility, and lack of remorse.


Insufficient data to determine when it usually begins.

How common: Not known.

Signs/Symptoms: Deliberate fire-setting; tension before the act followed by pleasure, gratification or relief once a fire is set; and fascination/attraction to fire.


Variable age of onset.

How common: 0.3 to 0.6%8; females outnumber males 3 to 1.

Signs/Symptoms: Failure to resist impulses to steal things that are not needed for personal use or for their value; tension before the act followed by pleasure, gratification or relief once the theft is committed.

Other Disruptive, Impulse-Control and Conduct Disorders

Presentations in which symptoms of emotional or behavioral dysregulation cause clinically significant distress or impairment to the individual but that do not meet full criteria for any of the disorders above.

How are these disorders treated?

Impulse control disorders may be treated with therapy and/or medications. Early detection and intervention are important, especially when some of these disorders may bring the person in contact with the legal system. A mental health expert may evaluate the individual’s history and current presentation to determine the presence of a disorder and to establish the best treatment plan. There are different behavioral therapies that have proven effective for the management of these disorders and which should only be performed by a licensed provider.

We may not know what, if anything, is wrong with Suárez, but at least his behavior has given us the opportunity to talk about these important topics while the world is watching.


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

Until next time!

Dr. Felix