Know Suicide's Warning Signs

SUNDAY March 23, 2008 -- While many people view spring as a time of renewal and hope, the greatest number of suicides in the United States occur each year in April and May, notes the American College of Emergency Physicians.

It's not clear why suicide rates spike in the spring, said ACEP President Dr. Linda L. Lawrence. But "we do know that suicide is the 11th leading cause of death for all ages in the United States, with one suicide occurring every 16 minutes or about 11 suicides per 100,000 people," she said in a prepared statement.

"Moreover, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 25- to 34-year-olds and the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds. Men take their own lives nearly four times more often than women, with men ages 75 and older having the highest rate of suicide, although over a lifetime, women attempt suicide two to three times as often as men," Lawrence said.

For every successful suicide attempt, there are 25 failed attempts that often leave people seriously injured and in need of medical care. More than 90 percent of all suicides are linked with a mood disorder or other psychiatric illnesses, which can be treated through behavioral therapy and medication, Lawrence said.

"So we want to build greater public awareness and understanding of suicide in order to prevent these needless deaths and injuries from occurring," she said.

As part of that effort, the ACEP wants to educate people about the warning signs of suicidal behavior, which include:

  • Feeling depressed, down or excessively sad.
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or having no purpose in life, along with a loss of interest or pleasure in doing things.
  • Preoccupation with death, dying or violence, or talking about wanting to die.
  • Seeking access to medications, weapons or other means of committing suicide.
  • Wide mood swings -- feeling extremely up one day and terribly down the next.
  • Feelings of great agitation, rage or uncontrolled anger, or wanting to get revenge.
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits, appearance, behavior, or personality.
  • Risky or self-destructive behavior, such as driving recklessly or taking illegal drugs.
  • Sudden calmness (a sign that a person has made the decision to attempt suicide).
  • Life crises, trauma or setbacks, including school, work or relationship problems, job loss, divorce, death of a loved one, financial difficulties, diagnosis of a terminal illness.
  • Putting one's affairs in order, including giving away belongings, visiting family members and friends, drawing up a will or writing a suicide note.

If a person is threatening to commit suicide, take it seriously, remain calm and take the following steps, ACEP advises:

  • Don't leave the person alone. Prevent access to firearms, knives, medications or any other item the person may use to commit suicide.
  • Don't try to handle the situation alone. Call 911 or the local emergency response number. Phone the person's doctor, the police, a local crisis intervention team, or others who are trained to help.
  • While waiting for help, listen closely to the person. Let the person know you're listening by maintaining eye contact, moving closer, or holding his or her hand, if appropriate.
  • Ask questions to determine what method of suicide the person is considering and whether he or she has an organized plan.
  • Remind the person that help is available.
  • If the person does attempt suicide, immediately call for emergency medical assistance and administer first aid, if necessary.

More information

For more on preventing suicide, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Posted: March 2008


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