- Over the past 20 years, suicide has increased by 25% globally and amongst all ages. This leaves many wondering why?
- While we don’t have a sure answer (due to lack of research) there are a few significant factors that likely play a role: stigma, misdiagnosis, and a lack of understanding.
- First, the stigma surrounding mental illness prevents many from talking about mental health and from seeking help for their mental health issues.
- Also, misdiagnosis plays a part, as physicians commonly misdiagnose their patients or will diagnose them with one illness and then fail to screen them for others.
- Finally, many individuals don’t understand that the way they’re feeling may signify a serious mental illness that can lead them to have suicidal thoughts and/or feelings.
- There is a dire need for greater research into this rise in suicide.
Suicide rates in the US have increased by 25% over the course of two decades ending in 2016, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Furthermore, 25 different states saw a rise in suicide deaths by more than 30 percent. Based on the most recent data from the CDC…
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US.
- Approximately 123 Americans die by suicide each day.
- Around 44,965 Americans die by suicide each year.
This leaves us pondering a very pertinent question: Why? Why are suicide rates increasing? Why is suicide on the rise? Why thousands of people continue to die by suicide every single year?
Here’s What We Know…
Answering this question isn’t so simple. But there are several things we can pull from. Prakash Masand M.D., a psychiatrist and the founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence, says that the following factors likely play a role in the rise of suicide:
“First, there is and always has been a stigma around mental illness. Every time a celebrity commits suicide, there is a lot of attention put on the topic. The momentum seems to wane away eventually and people are once again embarrassed to discuss their mental health struggles,” he explains. “We need to continue to push the fact that the brain is like any other organ in the body. Just as your heart or kidneys may have certain issues, so too can your brain. If the stigma is broken, less people have to suffer in silence and less people will turn to suicide as their escape.”
“The second issue standing in the way of suicide prevention is the misdiagnosis of clinical depression and bipolar disorder. In fact, studies have shown that it can take up to 10 years to get the correct diagnoses,” Masand says. “There are a number of reasons for this. A physician may only screen for depression, but fail to inquire about mania. Comorbidity in bipolar disorder is also very common, so again, a physician might quickly pick up on an anxiety disorder but fail to screen for other illnesses. Whether you are a family doctor or a mental health practitioner, we must do thorough and comprehensive screenings for mental illness.”
3) Lack of understanding.
“Finally, some patients don’t see their symptoms as abnormal and think this is just the way they are supposed to be,” Masand explains. “Digging deeper and asking what friends or family have said about the patient’s behavior might present a more objective look at what’s really going on and therefore decrease suicide risks.”
…But We Still Need to Know More
All of that being said, there is still a great need to learn more about suicide and invest in suicide research, as explained by Licensed Clinical Social Worker Kim Shashoua:
“Suicide is a topic that still has a lot of stigma attached, which is reflected in how much funding the research has gotten. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, but gets a fraction of the funding. Research involving alcoholism has five times the funding. Breast cancer—not all cancer, just breast cancer—has almost seven times the research funding. Dr. April Foreman, a leading suicidologist, often points out how we fund suicide research at the same rate as smallpox research.
What is known about suicide is that certain factors can increase risk. Access to lethal means, for example, can greatly increase risk. When people feel strong urges to end their life, these feelings will often pass. If a person has an accessible, loaded gun, they are able to act on their urge without waiting for it to pass.
Other stresses that wear down emotional resilience are risk factors, such as job loss, relationship issues, or chronic pain. When someone has a harder time finding safe harbor and finding a place to feel unburdened, it takes a toll on their ability to bounce back. Some of these issues are tied into social trends that we’ve been seeing nationally, such as it being difficult-to-impossible to have adequate housing, food, and healthcare when living on minimum wage or social security alone.”
*If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, get off this site and call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Regardless of the time or day, someone will answer your call and get you the help that you need. You can find a list of other helpful resources here.*