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;
- A recent tragedy or loss;
- Agitation; and/or
- Sleep deprivation.