Has suicide hurt your family? Are you having thoughts about suicide, known as "suicide ideation"? Are you surfing the Internet for suicide information?
ASHA International states "suicide claims a life every 30 seconds." In 2005, Montana was leading the U.S. in the number of suicides per state. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death among Americans. This translates to more than 33,000 people who kill themselves each year, almost double the homicide rate. The American Association of Suicidology ranks suicide third as a cause of death among youth and young adults 15 to 24 years old. The CDC reported approximately 392,000 suicide attempts presented to emergency departments across the country. It is believed that for every one suicide, there are at least 25 more attempts.
Mental illness accounts for successful suicide in 90 percent of cases. ASHA International states the World Health Organization offers alarming statistics that identify "1 in every 4 people develops one or more mental disorders at some stage in life." Around the world, 450 million people suffer from mental disorders.
What are some of the risk factors for suicide?
• History of mental illness, in particular clinical depression. (AAS research findings suggest that about 60 percent of suicide victims were depressed. If you are depressed, your risk increases by 50 percent.)
• History of alcohol and substance abuse. (Alcoholism increases the risk of suicide in people by 50 percent to 70 percent compared to the general population, according to AAS.)
• Social isolation.
• Previous history of suicide attempts.
• Suicidal thoughts.
• Feelings of hopelessness and despair.
• Feeling trapped without choices.
• Severe anxiety and sleep deprivation.
• Physical sickness.
• Genetic predisposition.
• Unrestricted and easy access to such things as firearms, pesticides and poisons.
• Loss of a relationship, family member or job.
• "Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or suicidal thoughts," according to the CDC.
Another perhaps potentially overlooked risk factor is the Internet. In 2008, an article titled "Googling Suicide" noted that "for many lonely or disconnected individuals, the Internet provides respite and relief." Although there are sources of help on the Internet, there are suicide forums; suicide pacts; suicide how-to sites; participation with insult chat rooms and suicide baiting, in which someone accidentally dies from a lethal overdose of a prescription drug after chat room participants encourage the person to take more; links to Internet pharmacies offering prescription drugs without valid prescriptions; and links to available plant poisons.
If you, a loved one or friend need immediate help, call 9-1-1. The National Institute for Mental Health has a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you are looking for less urgent help or are a survivor of suicide affected by the death of someone, contact your mental health provider or family physician.
I also offer a free Depression Support group on the second Wednesday of every month. This group meets at Community Medical Center from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in Physician Building 3, Mountain View Family Medicine Clinic, Suite 101. Call (406) 327-3920 for more information.
Phillip Holman is a psychiatrist with Community Physician Group at Community Medical Center and medical director of psychiatric services.