Mental Illness is a Risk Factor for Suicide, But Friends and Family Can Help
Philadelphia, PA—Officially, every 13 minutes, someone in the United States chooses to end his or her life—113 lives every day. But if we dig a little below the surface and get more specific with the top 2 causes of death, heart disease and cancer, Suicide is the leading cause of death in America, and the main risk factors for suicide is struggling with mental illness or addiction.
May is National Mental Illness Awareness Month, and many suicides can be prevented with intervention from friends and family along with the right treatment and counseling options.
The two biggest risk factors for suicide are depression and addictions, two very treatable issues. Unfortunately, most people struggle in understanding the Behavioral Health system in order to receive Christian care. I started Lighthouse Network to be the ‘Good Samaritan,’ helping at-risk individuals and their families find excellent Christian and medical care.
Many who have committed suicide or attempted to take their own life see no way out of the pain, depression and hopelessness they are feeling. Counseling and treatment DO help, especially treatment options with a Christian and biblical focus. For example, the Bible is full of hope, as evidenced in verses such as Jeremiah 29:11: ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ When we discover, acknowledge and treat psychological issues and mental illness, we have a greater chance of preventing suicide from happening, and restoring hope for our loved ones.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2013, 41,149 suicides were reported, or 113 suicides a day, a suicide every 12.7 minutes. But unfortunately, the suicide number is actually much higher.
Many reports, including a recent UK Study, reveal the well-supported belief that suicides are underreported by as much as four to twelve times. Even if we take the conservative estimate that they are underreported by six times, this means suicide would become the second-leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease, assuming cancer deaths are broken down into individual types of cancer. This alone is an astounding reality and underscores just how many Americans are affected by suicide in some way.
But I believe another major area of under-reporting of suicide exists, and this is the area of passive suicide. In passive suicide, the individual doesn’t make an effort to stay alive. When I was involved in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in Mississippi, we saw many people who were overwhelmed and gave up. They stopped their heart meds or insulin, or some other life sustaining treatment and died. The cause of death was listed as heart attack, diabetes, but friends and family told us it was a death wish, or passive suicide.
When you add in the suspicious, undetermined, or under-reported deaths that were actually suicides with the passive suicides, some estimate suicide might be the leading cause of death in the United States.
Going one step further and breaking the general categories of heart disease and cancer into their specific and many subtypes, like coronary artery disease, hypertension, valve problems, or lung cancer, brain cancer, and GI cancer, then suicide rises to number one on the list.
Risk factors for suicide include struggling with a mental disorder such as depression or bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder, alcohol or substance abuse or dependence, schizophrenia, borderline or antisocial personality disorder, conduct disorder, psychotic disorders, anxiety disorders, or impulsivity and aggression. The risk factors can be heightened for those who deal with two or more of these simultaneously.
Also at risk are those who have attempted suicide before, have a family history of suicide, or have a serious medical condition and/or pain. Environmental factors also play a part, from a highly stressful life event such as losing someone to financial loss or trouble with the law. Prolonged stress due to adversities such as unemployment, relationship conflicts, harassment or bullying can also figure into suicide.
These additional facts about the mental disorders can sometimes—but not always—contribute to suicide:
• 9 percent of adults will struggle with significant depression this year—13.4 percent of females and 6.7 percent of males.
• 17 percent of adults will experience a major depression in their lifetime; 28 percent will experience a minor depression.
• Depression is the number one disease burden for women.
One of the most important ways friends and family can help a suicidal loved one is to know the warning signs, such as these shared by the CDC:
• Talking about wanting to kill themselves, or saying they wish they were dead
• Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as hoarding medicine or buying a gun
• Talking about a specific suicide plan
• Feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
• Feeling trapped, desperate or needing to escape from an intolerable situation
• Having the feeling of being a burden to others
• Feeling humiliated
• Having intense anxiety and/or panic attacks
• Losing interest in things, or losing the ability to experience pleasure
• Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn from friends, family, and others
• Acting irritable or agitated
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge for being victimized or rejected
Despair, psychological pain, and hopelessness can be overwhelming. God and His teachings in the Bible bring healing, hope, joy, and peace. If we are going to turn this increasing suicide epidemic around, it will only happen when we turn to God and start to apply our Creator’s love and instruction to our everyday life decisions.