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Suicide: What factors are related to a person’s likelihood of committing suicide?

Suicide: What factors are related to a person’s likelihood of committing suicide?

Each year in the United States, approximately one suicide occurs every 17 minutes, making it the 11th leading cause of death (Centers for Disease Control, 2006; Holloway, Brown, & Beck, 2008). In addition, half a million Americans receive hospital treatment each year for attempted suicide. Indeed, suicides outnumber homicides by five to three in the United States. The suicide rate is much higher among Whites than among minorities (Centers for Disease Control, 2006). Compared to other countries, the suicide rate in the United States is below average (the highest rates are found in eastern European countries) (Curtin, 2004). More women than men attempt suicide, but more men succeed, partly because men tend to choose violent and lethal means, such as guns.

Although the largest number of suicides occurs among older White males, since the 1960s suicide attempt rates have been rising among adolescents and young adults (Figure 12–2). In fact, adolescents account for 12% of all suicide attempts in the United States, and in many other countries suicide ranks as either the first, second, or third leading cause of death in that age group (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1999; Zalsman & Mann, 2005). We cannot as yet explain the increase, though the stresses of leav- ing home, meeting the demands of college or a career, and surviving loneliness or broken romantic attachments seem to be particularly great at this stage of life. Although external problems such as unemployment and financial strain may also contribute to personal problems, suicidal behavior is most common among adolescents with psychological prob- lems. Several myths concerning suicide can be quite dangerous:

Myth: Someone who talks about committing suicide will never do it. Fact: Most people who kill themselves have talked about it. Such comments should always be taken seriously.

Myth: Someone who has tried suicide and failed is not serious about it.

Fact: Any suicide attempt means that the person is deeply troubled and needs help immediately. A suicidal person will try again, picking a more deadly method the second or third time around.

Myth: Only people who are life’s losers— those who have failed in their careers and in their personal lives—commit suicide.

Fact: Many people who kill themselves have prestigious jobs, conventional families, and a good income. Physicians, for example, have a suicide rate several times higher than that for the general population; in this case, the tendency to suicide may be related to their work stresses.

People considering suicide are overwhelmed with hopelessness. They feel that things cannot get better and see no way out of their difficulties. This perception is depression in the extreme, and it is not easy to talk someone out of this state of mind. Telling a suicidal person that things aren’t really so

Gender and race differences in the suicide rate across the life span. The suicide rate for White males, who commit the largest number of suicides at all ages, shows a sharp rise beyond the age of 65. In contrast, the suicide rate for African American females, which is the lowest for any group, remains relatively stable throughout the life span. Source: From Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior by E. K. Moscicki. Copyright © 1995 by Guilford Publi- cations, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Copyright Clearance Center on behalf of the publisher.

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