Talking about Suicide

September is national suicide prevention month. I thought, with that in mind, I might spend a few minutes talking about suicide and suicide prevention. Suicide rates have been on the increase in our youth for the past several decades. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among people age 10 to 34. Even working in the field of mental health we can often find ourselves avoiding talking about it with our patients. The stigma that hangs over suicide is one of the prime reasons we avoid talking about it. The more we talk about it the less stigma there will be about suicide.

One thing to realize is that talking about suicide with our patients does not give them the idea. There was a study done years ago that looked at several suicides completed in Louisville and whether they had sought care before committing suicide. It turned out that of the 100 cases examined, only 2 had ever sought treatment for mood or suicidal ideation. It seems, from the data, that talking about suicide with our patients is much more likely to be protective then to never bring it up.

It is important to keep risk factors in our minds as we assess our patients. Alcohol or drug use is a prime concern for suicide, especially if they occur in the presence of anxiety. Recent job loss and money concerns are risk factors. Living in a troubled home or being the victim of bullying. Isolation is also a risk factor. Many of these concerns are exacerbated by the pandemic and it is important considering this to be more vigilant about suicide and suicide risk and prevention.

Keeping an eye on our patients, loved ones and friends is paramount in these uncertain times. Sudden changes in behavior, presence of depression or other mood symptoms, self-isolation or changes in behavior should raise our concern about the possibility of suicide and talking about it is protective.

– Stephen Taylor, MD

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