Despite being a public health crisis that impacts people of all ages, suicide remains heavily stigmatized and pushed to the recess of public discussion. Out of fear that it might inspire someone to commit suicide, even when someone is demonstrating risk factors, many people do not discuss it with their families or friends. However, research has shown that talking openly about suicide can help people feel less lonely and more comfortable expressing their feelings. To honor Suicide Awareness Month this September, we encourage you to educate yourself on depression and suicide. Start breaking down stigmas in your neighborhood by sharing what you’re learning and supporting the families who have lost loved ones to suicide.
What Does Awareness Look like for Different Ages?
A common misconception is that depression symptoms are a normal part of aging due to the physical, emotional, and cognitive difficulties associated with aging. For example, if a senior has recently been diagnosed with a chronic or mental illness or has lost a spouse, they are more likely to experience depression in response. Older adults generally struggle to voice their needs, especially when suffering from depression, even more so when family and friends live far away.
Several factors contribute to the high risk of older adults attempting suicide and ultimately taking their own lives. It is more difficult for those older adults who live alone to be found; they tend to use lethal methods and plan carefully; they are also physically frail, so they have more difficulty recovering fully. It is not uncommon for older adults with depression to report physical complaints that their doctors cannot explain or may not have had the time to treat. They may also appear irritable instead of sad.
Death by suicide is one of the leading causes of death among adults between the ages of 26 and 55. The suicide rate among middle-aged men is the highest among other groups. Male, middle-aged men can struggle with stressors such as unemployment and divorce due to not meeting their traditional male roles. Aside from these factors, life challenges, substance abuse, poverty, and relationship difficulties can also lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.
Risk Factors for Adults:
- A personal and familial history of mental illness
- Lethal means, such as pills and guns, are readily available
- Abuse, neglect, or trauma experienced as a child
- Chronic stress
Young Adults & Teenagers
For young adults and teenagers, suicide is the second most common cause of death among 15-24. Compared to adults, teenagers and young adults typically experience extreme and long-lasting reactions that leave them feeling hopeless and sad, unable to see that things will change; this is why some may think suicide is the only way out of these feelings. Additionally, many adolescent people who are depressed may also be facing an addiction. Teenagers and college students with severe depression often take drugs, drink alcohol, or engage in risky behaviors to numb pain. Unfortunately, addiction and depression can be a deadly combination. Consequently, drugs and alcohol become the only means of escaping or alleviating their suffering.
Risk Factors for Teenagers and Young Adults:
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- A recent traumatic event
- Gun availability
- Big familial changes
- Changes in friendships
- Problems in school
- Struggling with sexual orientation or gender identity in an unsupportive and nonaccepting environment
It is a common misconception that suicide affects only teenagers and adults, but children also risk developing depression and experience suicidal thoughts at younger ages than expected.. Depression in children is often accompanied by changes in behavior, including changes in appetite, a shift in interest in playing games or playing with toys of their choice, and excessive fatigue. A child who expresses an interest in dying should never be brushed aside and ignored, especially if they appear to be acting out for attention. Children interested in dying are likely to complete their suicide attempts, even those younger than 10.
Suicide Risk Factors for Children
- A change in eating or sleeping habits
- A persistent feeling of sadness
- Taking a break from friends, family, and regular activities
- Consistent complaints of stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, and other symptoms associated with negative emotions
- Being preoccupied with death and dying
- Getting bullied
Supporting the Self or Loved Ones who are Impacted by Suicide
When you’ve lost a loved one to suicide:
- Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to express your emotions
- Keep a journal: you can calm your insecurities by writing everything down, even if you aren’t ready to express your grief verbally
- Remember your loved one’s life was about more than their suicide
- Be prepared for a nonlinear healing process
- Don’t neglect yourself
- Do not hesitate to enlist the help of your support system if you need it
- Give yourself time to heal
When someone in your life has just lost a loved one by suicide:
- It is okay to say, “I don’t know what to say” or “I don’t know what you’re going through, but I want to be there for you.”
- Gain a better understanding of what your loved one is going through by educating yourself
- Offer to help with a specific task, such as grocery shopping or babysitting, instead of waiting for someone to ask for assistance.
- You can assist your loved one’s recovery from grief by supporting them in finding a therapist, setting up an appointment, driving them there, etc.
- Most importantly, remind your friend of their self-care needs: get plenty of rest, eat nutritiously, etc.
Despite depression being the most common diagnosis associated with suicidal ideation, it is often left undiagnosed and untreated. A person’s suicide risk can rise if they have a co-occurring diagnosis of anxiety, substance abuse, and/or depression. Suicide prevention awareness will only begin once we, as a community, take responsibility for recognizing suicide warning signs, whether we are parents, teachers, community workers, or anyone else with regular contact with children, teens, young adults, adults, or elders. Having these difficult conversations could prevent someone from committing suicide, which would have an enormous impact on their lives.
Whether you or someone you love is showing signs of suicidality, know that you are not alone and help is available. We are here to support your mental health. Please call 911 if you are experiencing a psychiatric emergency. In addition, if you are interested in scheduling a non-emergency appointment, please do not hesitate to contact us at your earliest convenience.