Deaths by gun violence garner a lot of media attention, as do homicides by other means. Because of this, many don’t realize the risk of suicide happening to someone you love is much higher than the possibility they would die from homicide.
In fact, deaths by suicide are twice as common as ones by homicide, and many Americans don’t even realize this truth. Part of that is likely due to the portrayal of deaths in popular media; we hear about or see homicides all the time in the news and in movies, but the realistic portrayal of suicide is much lower by comparison.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the reported cause of death for nearly 45,000 Americans in 2016. It was the 10th-leading cause of death overall that year, as well as the second-leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 34. For Americans aged 35 to 54, suicide was the fourth-highest cause of death.
Suicide vs. Homicide
While both are tragic causes of death, suicide and homicide differ greatly in prevalence. The aforementioned CDC report said that the number of suicides in 2016 was more than double the number of homicides (19,362) that year. Among all age groups, homicide consistently accounted for fewer deaths than suicide.
Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death between ages 10 and 44, and it’s the third biggest cause of death across all age groups. Heart disease accounts for the most deaths, while malignant neoplasms (cancerous tumors) are a close second. Despite these numbers, people continue to think of homicide as one of the leading causes of death, even though it isn’t.
While not everyone thinks the same way, assuming one is at a high risk of death by homicide can lead to individuals purchasing firearms for protection. However, there are more deaths by suicide involving firearms than there are homicides and accidental firearm injuries, according to the CDC.
As you might expect, people who attempt suicide by firearm are much more likely to die than those who use alternative methods, such as poisoning or suffocation. These numbers can help explain why more men die via suicide than women, as men are more likely to use firearms.
Recognizing Warning Signs of Suicide
While many people who are struggling with thoughts of suicide don’t speak openly about their feelings, it’s still possible to recognize risk factors for suicide. Doing so can be the key to helping someone receive the care they need. If you’re concerned about a loved one, pay attention to these symptoms:
Suicidal ideation involves a person experiencing thoughts about death, dying, wishing for death, or imagining death by suicide. While not always present, such reoccurring thoughts can be the first sign of potential risk.
Most signs of suicidal ideation remain internal, but you should pay attention to any threats, comments or even jokes that someone makes about killing him- or herself. Even harmless thoughts like, “I wish I could disappear,” have the potential to become more dangerous over time. Though not all people who experience suicidal ideation will attempt suicide, it’s better to recognize it and respond early, rather than letting it drag on.
Looking for Ways to Commit Suicide
This won’t be as obvious as it sounds. It may be your loved one laughing about the least painful ways to die or seeking out movies that have suicide as a theme.
If you are uncomfortable with such discussions and are concerned, check out his or her browser history – if it’s legal and accessible. Parents or romantic partners, for instance, may consider this option. Online searches for weapons or suicide how-tos may indicate a serious issue.
Increased Alcohol and Drug Use
Many people who struggle with mental illness are at a high risk of suicide. Mental illness can also correlate with dangerous levels of alcohol and drug use, especially if someone regularly uses a substance to try to escape their symptoms.
People who are considering suicide may engage in substance use for similar reasons, which can lower their inhabitations and reduce the hesitation to follow through on impulsive thoughts or plans.
Sudden Changes of Mood
Someone who is considering suicide may be under extreme stress, which can cause drastic changes in mood. This can involve feeling hopeless, going through agitation and anxiety, and experiencing episodes of rage and anger, to name a few.
Don’t assume a change from sudden sadness to peace means safety. One of the biggest warning signs to watch out for is if someone’s mood shifts from despair to a sudden calm, which can indicate that the person has decided to act on their suicidal thoughts.
Who’s At Risk?
Almost anyone can be at risk for suicide, regardless of their age, gender, outward appearance or social status. Many people who appear happy may be masking their true thoughts. Women have thoughts of suicide more often than men, but suicide numbers for men are 3.5 times higher than for women.
Many other factors can increase someone’s risk of suicide, such as:
- Family history
- Substance abuse
- Access to firearms
- History of trauma or abuse
- Social isolation
- Severe, chronic physical and mental illnesses
- Prolonged exposure to stress
Common Myths About Suicide
While suicide awareness has increased over the past years, there are still several myths about suicide in our culture. Here are a few of them:
- Successful or Famous People Have No Reason to Commit Suicide. No matter how successful someone is, there may still be a risk for developing suicidal thoughts.
- There’s No Way to Stop Someone from Committing Suicide. No matter how determined someone may feel about taking their life, it is possible for them to respond to proper treatment. People who experience suicidal thoughts due to mental illness can often improve through treatment for their disorder.
- Talking to Someone About Their Suicidal Thoughts Will Make Them Worse. Contrary to popular belief, it can help to talk to someone who is feeling suicidal because it can make them feel like someone cares and that they should seek help. Similarly, asking a non-suicidal person if they are having thoughts of suicide will not suddenly cause suicidal behavior.
Reasons Why People with Mental Illness May Commit Suicide
Suicide and mental illness are intimately related, and those struggling with mental illness are often at high risk for suicide. While the reasons for considering taking one’s life will differ from person to person, many are trying to escape the symptoms of a physical or mental illness. To some, death may appear to be the only reprieve from the symptoms of mental illness.
For others, suicide may happen not because of a desire to die, but instead from a misunderstanding that the actions they plan to take may actually result in their death. Sometimes, a person may only be “crying for help” or planning to hurt themselves, rather than trying to instantly die.
Suicide can also happen as an overreaction to extreme stress. Such stressors can be enough to cause someone with mental illness to have an intense reaction, which, in turn, can make suicide seem like an appropriate solution, even if it truly isn’t.
Avoiding Suicide, Beating Addiction
If you’re thinking about seeking help for a suicidal family member, it’s better to seek appropriate care when you sense something is wrong, rather than waiting until it’s too late. It is possible for those struggling with suicidal thoughts to improve their outlook on life.
And for those dealing with suicidal behavior along with a drug or alcohol problem, Fight Addiction Now can help steer their search for the most appropriate dual diagnosis treatment to facilitate recovery and healing.