Myths and Facts about Suicide


The recent deaths of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain by suicide highlight a troubling trend: suicide rates in the United States have increased nearly 30 percent over the past two decades, according to a study published June 8 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC study also shows that suicide rates have increased in nearly every state, including Maryland (8.5 percent), the District of Columbia (16.1 percent), and Virginia (17.4 percent).

Kaiser Permanente has taken on a very active role promoting Mental Health and Wellness at the national level, and earlier this year Kaiser Permanente launched the Zero Suicide Project, an initiative spearheaded by our Behavioral Health department. The goal of the Zero Suicide Project is to prevent suicides by identifying patients at risk of suicide and to improve the quality of care for our members.

“Fame and fortune doesn’t give you immunity from this national health problem,” says Rao Tripuraneni, MD, Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group (MAPMG) Associate Medical Director for Behavioral Health. “It’s critically important that we continue talking about the facts and dispelling common myths around suicide, and start taking informed steps to help save lives.”

Suicides have a profound impact on families, caregivers, and even communities. To promote a better understanding of suicide and what can be done to prevent it and help those in crisis, Dr. Tripuraneni offers the following myths, facts, warning signs, and steps anyone can take to help someone considering suicide.

Six Common Myths About Suicide:

Myth #1 – Talking about suicide makes a person suicidal.
Myth #2 – Only people with a diagnosed mental illness commit suicide (more than half of patients who commit suicide did not have a mental illness diagnosis).
Myth #3 – Most suicides happen without warning.
Myth #4 – People who talk about suicide don’t really intend to go through with it.
Myth #5 – People who threaten suicide are just seeking attention.
Myth #6 – Suicide is predominantly seen in younger age groups.

Suicide Facts and Risk Factors:

  • Suicide is a national health problem that needs to be addressed. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S. across all age groups and the second-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the CDC.
  • Talking openly about suicide can give individuals other options to seek help and find a way out of their personal crisis, thereby preventing suicide.
  • Men are four times more likely to die from suicide than women.
  • There is no single cause of suicide. Several factors can increase the risk, including:
    • A history of depression or mental illness
    • Alcohol or drug use
    • Previous suicide attempt
    • Family history of suicide or violence
    • Chronic physical illness – including pain
    • Availability of lethal means (e.g., firearms in home)

Warning Signs That Someone May Be Considering Suicide:

The first thing that should attract your attention is when someone starts talking about wanting to die or killing him or herself. Here are some common warning signs:

  • Talking about feeling hopeless, with no reason to live.
  • Talking about being a “burden” to others.
  • Talking about “feeling trapped” or “in unbearable pain”.
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Social withdrawal, specifically from friends and family.
  • Extreme mood swings.

5 Steps You Can Take to Help Someone:

  1. Ask: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question, but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
  2. Keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
  3. Be there: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may, in fact, reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
  4. Help them connect: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number in your phone so it’s there when you need it: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional.
  5. Stay Connected: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.

In addition, here are some points of contact to assist someone in crisis:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255): Skilled, trained crisis workers closest to your area are available to speak 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

FindYourWords.Org: KP’s national public health awareness effort focused on starting a conversation around mental health and wellness and reminding people that there is hope for those living with depression. On the site, you’ll find several resources with information on how to help someone who may be experiencing depression or other mental health conditions.

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