Since the age of 19, I have struggled with episodes of crippling depression. Starting in my mid-20s and lasting until one year ago, my depressive episodes were accompanied by intrusive and terrifying thoughts of suicide. Fortunately, I have never attempted suicide nor even planned it. Given my personal struggles against thoughts of self-harm, I felt it urgent that I attend a panel discussion on Suicide Prevention at my Clifton Campus of Centers for Disease Control on September 15.
The statistics are disheartening. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers and the fifth leading cause of death among persons 35 to 64 years of age. While death rates due to HIV and heart disease have decreased by roughly 50%, suicide has increased by 20% since 2003. Contrary to popular misconceptions, depression and mental illness are not the sole causes of suicide. Many factors increase an individual’s risk, including substance abuse, access to firearms, and a history of violent or impulsive behavior.
Meanwhile, researchers at the CDC Grand Rounds summarized programs and methods for stopping people from taking their own lives. The traditional mental health approach, with its social stigma and costly payments, has not proven effective in lowering rates of suicide across the general population. However, during my own struggles with depression, my access to talk therapy most certainly restrained me from attempting suicide. The most effective strategies for suicide prevention include reduction of stigma, offering support, knowing the warning signs, and promotion of help-seeking. Focusing outreach to high-risk groups, such as active duty military or veterans, Native American youth, and LGBT youth has also proven effective. Finally, easy-to-access online resources, such as mantherapy.org to help middle-aged and mature men, show much promise.
For anyone reading this post who is struggling with thoughts of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is accessible 24-7 at 1-800-273-8255. For anyone seeking to become more involved in suicide prevention in the workplace or community, refer to the actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org and zerosuicide.sprc.org.
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