Photo by Ahmed Hasan

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. Each year over 45,000 people in America kill themselves — a rate that has increased 41% since 1999. Mental health conditions are often seen as the cause of suicide, but 54% of those who commit suicide do not have a known mental illness

Suicide is rarely caused by a single factor, and is also affected by personal relationships, substance use, physical health, and stress from jobs, money, legal issues, and/or housing. The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic injustices have also had a chilling effect on Americans’ mental wellbeing. Awareness is important to end the stigma of suicidal feelings and help more people access life-saving help in dark times. 

Anyone can have suicidal thoughts, but it is important to know they are not permanent. Having suicidal thoughts is not a sign of weakness or failure, but is a symptom of profound distress. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors can be very damaging and dangerous, and should be considered a psychiatric emergency. 

Other than mental illness, there are a number of risk factors for suicide:

  • A family history of suicide;
  • Substance abuse — using drugs and alcohol results in mental/emotional highs and lows that can exacerbate suicidal thoughts;
  • Intoxication — more than a third of people who die from suicide are under the influence at the time;
  • Access to firearms;
  • A serious or chronic medical illness;
  • A history of trauma or abuse;
  • Prolonged stress;
  • Isolation;
  • A recent tragedy or loss;
  • Agitation; and/or
  • Sleep deprivation.

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Black lives are being lost to COVID-19 at twice the rate of others. Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes compared white women. Black children are more than three times more likely to die after surgery than white children. Black people are 3.23 times more likely to die at the hands of the police than white people. The Black Lives Matter movement protests against the destructive devaluing of Black lives at the hands of law enforcement and other racially-motivated violence; it is equally clear that Black lives need to be more valued in terms of the healthcare they have access to and receive.

By nearly any measure, Black people suffer disproportionately in America. They face countless challenges to good health, among them food, transportation, and income. Healthcare services are often more expensive, with over 30% of medical expenses faced by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) being associated with health inequities. The stress of living life inescapably affected by racism has very real effects on a person’s physical and mental health

Black

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Photo by Dan Meyers

Everyone has stress and difficult emotions on occasion, and this is completely normal. Mental illness, however, is any condition that makes it difficult to function in daily life. It can affect relationships or job performance, and is caused by any number of complex interactions within the human brain. Mental illness can range from anxiety to mood disorders like depression, psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, eating disorders, or addictive behaviors.

Studies have shown the economic costs of untreated mood and anxiety disorders among moms exceeds $14 billion dollars through the first five years of a child’s life alone, and fewer adults experiencing psychological distress are being treated by a mental health professional. Of those reporting foregoing mental health care, 13% said they could not afford the cost of care, 12% reported that their insurance would not cover it, 10% indicated that fear or embarrassment kept them from seeking care, and 8% reported that they did not know where to get care.

The United States is facing a growing

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Photo by Dan Meyers

For over 25 years, the first full week of October has been Mental Illness Awareness Week. World Mental Health Day falls on October 10. This year, our blog has observed Mental Health Month in May, Minority Mental Health Month in July, and Suicide Prevention Month/Week/Day in September. We continue to discuss mental health because it is crucial to public health.

Twenty percent of the population — as many as 65.9 million Americans live with some kind of mental health condition, with nearly 5% living with a serious mental illness that substantially limits their life activities. Those living with mental illness fight stigma while trying to survive under intense  internal duress. Awareness is important so that resources are made available to those who need them and the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses can be reduced.

Everyone has stress and difficult emotions on occasion, and this is completely normal. Mental illness, however,

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