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By Dr. Steven Huprich
About a month ago, the Center for Disease Control released some statistics indicating that suicide rates have risen in 49 of the 50 states. In that same week, we learned of the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. Just about everyone with whom I speak has been affected by suicide, and it is now true that suicide is a public health crisis. These statistics tell the story better than I can: there is one death by completed suicide worldwide every 40 seconds, and there is one suicide attempt in the United States every 28 seconds.
In a 2004 paper in the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, I wrote about the unconscious, dynamic factors that motivate someone to complete suicide. These include fantasies of reunification with love ones and ideas about individuals finally being appreciated at their funeral by those who did not even notice. Sadly, even with this knowledge and clinical wisdom, it is hard to predict when someone would commit suicide. Many times, it is the combination of a number of factors. Many consider “psychache” to be a predominant motivating factor, which was described by psychologist Edwin Shneidman as unbearable psychological pain that is the result of unmet psychological needs. Because the pain is unbearable, suicide is seen as a legitimate option to relieve suffering. In addition, the empirical literature says that one’s degree of hopeless is one of the best predictors of suicide attempts, as are a history of past attempts and access to lethal means. The Harvard School of Public Health reported that among people who nearly died in a suicide attempt, 24% said less than 5 minutes elapsed between deciding on suicide and making the attempt, and another 47% said the decision was made under an hour. For many, the combination of chronic stress, feelings of hopeless, and the addition of other stressful events or losses leads to suicide.
It is possible to help those who want to die by suicide. Please learn the signs and what you can do. There are, of course, other risk factors and warning signs: depression, giving away possessions, saying goodbye, social withdrawal, a history of abuse or trauma, increased substance abuse, and even references to being better off dead. The bottom line is this: don’t ignore the warning signs. Show your concern. Listening and caring will do more than you think. Encourage mental health treatment, particularly if a person has a plan (which is a very serious risk factor that may require immediate intervention). The National Suicide Prevention Life Line is 1-800-273-8255. Save this number in your phone and do not be afraid to share it with others or on your favorite social media website.
Remember, suicide is a highly preventable cause of death.