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Suicide Risks and Prevention

SuicidePrevention1Between the time I was asked to write this post and the date that you are reading it, a young and promising life ended by suicide in my community. Such a tragic event shocks the life of a parent, a family, a school, and a community in ways that are yet to be felt. The questions are endless: how could this happen? How did I not see this coming? Is there someone or something to blame? How do I cope with this? And very importantly, how can we keep this from happening again?

The status of suicide prevention in my home state of Tennessee is improving but still markedly high according to the 2012 report released by the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. Tennessee’s 932 deaths by suicide, a rate of 14.7 per 100,000, calculated in 2010, represent a downward trend, yet it is still above the national average. According to the report, accessible at the link above, Tennessee ranked 9th in the nation in 2008, the last year for which there is a state-by-state comparison.

Suicide’s causes have been characterized in many ways. A person that commits suicide must have been depressed. He was bullied. She was desperate. He was mentally ill or “not in his right mind.” She made an unfortunate but personal decision to commit suicide. More support or less oppression would have prevented him from killing himself.

Suicide Prevention-1

What would be the impact of learning more about suicide and its risk and protective factors?  Consider that 54% of mass murders in one sample committed suicide after the homicides were completed or interrupted. In the case of Adam Lanza who perpetrated the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, there is much anecdotal evidence that he went largely unnoticed and unassociated with throughout his life. And the end result of this horrific murder was suicide. Assuming that the involvement of aware and knowledgeable supports prevents suicide, as asserted and promoted by programs like the ASIST suicide prevention training by LivingWorks, could not only one but 27 lives have been saved that day?

At this point, the following questions are on my mind concerning suicide and suicide prevention:

  1. Is suicide always the result of depression or a diagnosable mental illness?
  2. How do societal, race, and gender factors play into suicide risk
  3. Do the societal or mental health risk factors preclude suicide awareness or intervention being ultimately effective in preventing it?
  4. On whom does the responsibility for preventing suicide rest?

What do you think? Looking forward to your views in our debates @SWSCmedia.

Glen Gaugh (@glengaugh) is a licensed master social worker. He is the Rural West Tennessee Program Supervisor for Youth Villages Specialized Crisis Services, which serves youths age 18 and younger who are in acute psychiatric crisis. Glen also has his own blog.

Join & share your views, experiences, and insights as we explore these and other relevant questions in @SWSCmedia Twitter debate on 30 January at 8:00 PM EST / 5:00 PM PST.


2 thoughts on “Suicide Risks and Prevention

  1. It’s unfortunate that individuals think suicide is the only option available to them. I cannot imagine what goes through their minds to lead them to this conclusion. Mental health and mental illness certainly play a part, as well as alcohol and drug use/abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse and a lot of unfortunate events happening at the same time. I came across this piece and feel it might be of interest:
    This was a program started by a youth that tried to commit suicide 6 or 7 times.

    Posted by 97socialworker | January 30, 2013, 10:20 pm
  2. Suicide is such a tragedy and I thought I would like to answer some of your questions Claudia.

    Is suicide always the result of depression or a diagnosable mental illness?
    No. There are many reasons for suicide including cultural, medical, social, and interpersonal reasons. For example..suicide bombers may be viewing what they are doing as an altruistic act that goes to protection of thier families, there are reasons like Indian farmers who have lost their land due to foreclosures and manipulation by transnational corporations, terminal and chronic illness may be a reason as is coercion.

    How do societal, race, and gender factors play into suicide risk?
    In Canada we have a much higher % of aboriginal suicide and the same with LGBT. men are also 3 times as likely to succeed.

    Do the societal or mental health risk factors preclude suicide awareness or intervention being ultimately effective in preventing it?
    I believe the stigma around suicide is a contributing factor and that awareness campaigns help people to seek help. I know from personal experience and the experience of our agency,, in talking to youth about suicide that that one conversation leads to many youth seeking help.

    On whom does the responsibility for preventing suicide rest?
    It ultimately rests with society as a whole in that no one wants to die, but they want to escape from their emotional pain. People who die by suicide are the canaries ion the coal mine of our society, they are telling us we have serious social issues that need to be addressed.

    Our online portal is a resource for youth in crisis and we have live anonymous chat every night from 6pm to 11pm helping kids in crisis, ie youth who are thinking about suicide and we have found that what they all need is someone to listen to their stories. And the stories are tragic stories of alienation, uncaring families, stigma, lack of resources, lack of understanding and lots of loss.

    Posted by Christopher Holt | February 4, 2013, 8:45 pm

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