Suicide — There is a Path From Pain to Healing

Suicidal death is especially tragic, devastating to family members and friends, stigmatizing, incomprehensible and frightening. And it’s a subject most of us shy away from.

However, most of us know someone who has been touched by a suicidal death. Some are well known: politicians Mark Antony and Seneca of ancient Rome, Getulio Vargas of Brazil, camera inventor George Eastman, actors Marilyn Monroe and Richard Farnsworth, comedian Robin Williams, auto racer Dick Trickle, artists Mark Rothko and Vincent VanGogh, musicians Kurt Cobain and Phil Ochs, explorer Meriwether Lewis and writers Ernest Hemingway and Hunter Thompson. All these individuals likely died by suicide, despite their considerable gifts. Like over 95% of those who die by suicide, most of them had depression, alcoholism or drug addiction.

Fortunately, suicide is often preventable. Simply talking openly about suicide decreases the risk of a suicide attempt. Getting mental health treatment prevents many people from suicide attempts and a death by suicide. Discussing mental health problems, such as depression and alcohol/substance abuse, can help reduce the stigma and help people who are desperate — and their friends and families — cope and get help. Appropriate treatment can help the person with these problems recover and find joy in life.

Suicide is common worldwide. It’s the 10th most common cause of death in the U.S., especially for teens and those over age 65. More than 800 people die by suicide annually in Wisconsin, and more than 40,000 Americans take their own lives each year. At least three times more people attempt suicide, and those who have seriously attempted suicide are at particular risk of death later by suicide.

Suicide Rule Number 1

If someone talks about suicide, take it seriously. Urge the person to seek help. That can be their primary care provider or a specialty mental health professional. Emergency rooms provide help to thousands every year, saving many from suicidal death.

Contacting friends and family is an important option for individuals who may be suffering from serious stress and have depression, substance use disorders and other mental disorders. Family members and friends can be extremely helpful in assisting a person to get help. An important, readily available option is to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Lifeline is available 24/7.

Facebook also offers a suicide prevention tool.

Risk Factors For Suicide

Keep in mind, people can have one or more risk factors and not be suicidal. Risk varies by age, gender and ethnic group.

Here are suicide risk factors and signs that you should be familiar with, as reported by suicide experts at the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Depression and other mental disorders, including bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders.
  • Substance abuse (often along with other mental disorders.)
  • Impulsive personality style
  • Previous suicide attempt.
  • Family history of suicide (about 40-50% of the suicide risk is likely due to genetic factors).
  • Family violence that includes physical and sexual abuse.
  • Firearms in the home. The most common method for completed suicide in the U.S. is a self-inflicted gunshot, especially for young adults and teens. Removing weapons from the home dramatically reduces the risk of suicide in that home.
  • Incarceration.
  • Exposure to suicidal behavior in others, such as family members or peers.

Signs to Watch For

If you notice these concerning signs in yourself or a friend, reach out to a health care or mental health professional or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

Most people who feel suicidal will demonstrate warning signs. If you or someone you love has these signs, take them seriously and reach out to outside resources. Help is available for mental health issues. There is a path to healing.

Good resources are available: National Institute of Mental Health

Meet the Author

Michael J. Bohn, MD is a psychiatrist at the Aurora Behavioral Health Center in Wauwatosa, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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