Suicide demands our attention and honest, open discussion

Published 7:42 am Friday, December 2, 2016

The Kentucky Standard

When a loved one suddenly takes his or her own life, it’s devastating. The first question is always: Why? How could we have missed the warning signs? For reasons that none of us fully understand, some people reach such depths of despair, pain and hopelessness that they see no way out but death.

As a society, we continue to tiptoe around the taboo topic of suicide. The negative stigmas that are still associated with mental illness and suicide are much to blame. Death is scary enough, but suicide often appears mysterious and unpreventable. Most of us don’t want to openly discuss such a taboo topic. It only draws more attention to it. But suicide needs attention brought only by open and honest discussion. It’s the only way to address this public health problem that has steadily increased over the last decade.

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Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Each year more than 42,000 Americans die by suicide, and for every suicide, 25 attempts were made. Males take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of women, and white males account for seven of every 10 suicides. Firearms are the most common method of suicide.

Kentucky’s suicide rate is even higher than the national average, with 15.5 suicides per 100,000 people, compared to 12.5 nationwide.

Nelson County ranks 65th out of Kentucky’s 120 counties in suicide death rates per 100,000. Suicide is also the 10th leading cause of death in Kentucky and the second leading cause of death in people ages 15 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In all of Kentucky, suicides outpace homicides by nearly four to one. Yet, we openly talk about how homicides are affecting our communities and bury any talks around suicides even though they are more prevalent.

Statistics show that the most vulnerable group for suicide is teenagers. Each day in our nation, there are on average of 5,240 suicide attempts by young people grades 7-12. And four out of five teens who attempt suicide give warning signs.

There’s no single cause for suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition. Conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse increase the risk for suicide. Environmental issues including a death, divorce, job loss, harassment, bullying and relationship problems can also be contributing factors.
Suicide warning signs include:

• Talking about being a burden to others, feeling trapped, having no reason to live or killing themselves.
• Behavior changes including increased drug and alcohol use, acting recklessly, isolating themselves from family and friends, sleeping too much or too little.
• Mood changes including depression, loss of interest, rage, irritability and anxiety.

As a society, we must find ways to prevent suicide by creating a culture where talking about suicide is acceptable and welcomed. We need to find better ways to reach and treat those who suffer from mental illness. Addressing mental health issues must become a priority in our schools, workplaces and communities if we are going to tackle this taboo subject. However uncomfortable it may be , openly talking about people’s suicidal thoughts and keeping them away from lethal means can and will save lives.

If you know someone who exhibits warning signs of suicide, call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for help.