October 10th 2019 is World Mental Health Day. The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) has made “suicide prevention” the main theme this year.The Center for Disease Control (CDC) tells us suicide rates are at a 30 year high. Due in part to a number of complicated factors, suicide has increased over time in most parts of the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) tells us that suicide reaps a significant toll- over 800,00 people a year making it the leading case of death in young people aged 15-29. Additionally, Suicide is raising sharply for males and females aged 45-64. We also see that suicide rates spike in those over the age of 85- leaving no segment of the population immune. Given all the media attention on crime and gun violence of late, it is worthy to note that there were more than twice as many suicides in the United States as there were homicides.
I feel like I hear much more dark humor from my younger patients these days. Perhaps a reflection of over scheduled and over stressed youth or some larger problems in society, I have found a significant increase humor that almost makes light of suicide and makes feeling depressed a badge of honor of sorts. I find this trend to be troubling. Suicidal thoughts, like mental health conditions can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, culture or background. Very commonly, suicide is the result of untreated mental illness.Although suicidal thoughts can be common, they should not be taken lightly or considered normal as they often indicate much more serious issues. The CDC provides us with a few risk factors to look out for such as depression, family history of suicide, family history of child maltreatment, previous suicide attempts, self-harm, such as “cutting”, history of mental disorders, drug or alcohol abuse, feelings of helplessness, and hopelessness, isolation, loss, physical illness, barriers to accessing mental health treatment or simply and unwillingness to seek out treatment due to the stigma associated with mental health and substance abuse disorders, or suicidal thoughts. Some additional warning signs include talk about killing themselves, having no reason to live, being a burden, feeling trapped, unbearable pain, seeing no other way out, withdraw, sleeping too much or too little, visiting people to say good bye, giving prized possessions away, aggression, fatigue, depression, anxiety, loss of interest, irritability, history of Traumatic Brain Injury, serious mental illness like schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, prolonged periods of stress harassment or bullying, relationship problems or unemployment, stressful life events such as divorce, rejection, financial crisis among others.
As a community, we all have a role in keeping our eye out. The Golden Rule, a biblical maxim that indicates that we treat others as we would want to be treated. If you see or notice someone, a friend, colleague, or peer struggling with any of the above risk factors or warning signs, I invite you to reach out to them. That small act of kindness just may be enough to help them feel like they are not alone…If you are the one struggling. I want to let you know that you are not alone, you do not have to continue to feel this way. There is a way out- help is available.
Dr. Clint C. Stankiewicz