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Emotional Health

Suicide Has No Boundaries

Five Things You Should Know About Suicide

It’s never easy to make sense of suicide. Here are five things you should know about this difficult topic:

Suicide has no boundaries

No matter your income, gender, profession or stage in life, suicide has no rules, limits or guidelines. Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that, since 1999, suicide rates have increased across all age groups, particularly among young girls, adolescents, and now middle-aged adults and the elderly. These increases have been noted among both men and women, and in rural and urban settings.

“The trends are troubling. Suicide is a significant public health problem here in the United States,” says Mark A. Reinecke, PhD, Chief Psychologist at Northwestern Medicine and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Feinberg School of Medicine.

The causes of these increases are somewhat unclear. “The recent increases in rates of suicide here in the United States are broad, and may be related to economic stress, media, substance abuse, social media, opioid use and lack of access to mental health services,” explains Dr. Reinecke.

Suicide’s connection to mental health

A range of factors increases a person’s risk for attempting or completing suicide, and many of them are connected to mental health:

  • Family history of suicide or mental health problems. Depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and suicide suggest a possible biological or genetic connection to a person’s risk for attempting or completing suicide.
  • Untreated mental health conditions. Over 90 percent of individuals who commit suicide have a history of mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse, according to Dr. Reinecke.
  • A stressful life event, such as losing a job or divorce. An individual may see these problems as insurmountable and unsolvable, and experience the pain as unendurable
  • A break-down in social support--either from the family or the larger community. This lack of support can leave someone feeling alienated or alone, and he or she may come to believe that others won't care or "will be better off without me." When this happens, usual coping strategies aren’t effective, and feelings of hopelessness can take over.

A public health crisis

“We have a developing public health crisis. Thoughtful, intensive, and concerted efforts, at both the individual and community level, offer a way forward. They offer hope,” says Dr. Reinecke.

A number of evidence-based treatment and prevention programs have been developed over the years, as well as school- and community-based programs that provide education, screening and rapid referrals for care. Psychotherapy is also proven to be effective for helping individuals who are experiencing thoughts of death and suicide.

What can be done?

Be aware of the signs of depression and risk factors for suicide, and take them seriously. If you're concerned about a friend or family member, offer them support and encourage them to seek the help of a mental health professional. Offering support and hope for a positive future are part of the solution. Just being there to talk or listen is helpful.

If you see something, say something

If you notice someone you love has a sudden change in mood, is expressing suicidal ideation, or experiencing depression, or if you’re experiencing feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of harming yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255. You can also visit your nearest Emergency Room, dial 911 or seek the help of a mental health professional.

You’re not alone. There is help.

Mark A. Reinecke, PhD
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Professor, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Primary Specialty Psychology
Prefers Referral by Another Physician
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