July 13, 2007
Mental Health Expert: Suicide is a Tragic and Preventable Problem
The statistics are alarming. Suicide deaths outnumber homicide deaths by five to three. It has been estimated that there may be from eight to 25 attempted suicides per every one suicide death. In 2000, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S. Specifically, 10.6 out of every 100,000 persons died by suicide. The total number of suicides was 29,350, or 1.2 percent of all deaths.
Recent media reports of suicide deaths and attempts emphasize the need for carefully designed and implemented prevention efforts. According to Nicole Kolmsee, Director of Community Services for the Oswego County Department of Social Services, suicidal behavior is very complex. Risk factors vary with age, gender and ethnic group, and may even change over time.
Adverse life events in combination with depression may lead to suicide or suicidal thoughts. Research has shown that more than 90 percent of people who kill themselves have depression or another diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder. However, it is important to note, suicide and suicidal thoughts or behaviors are not normal responses to stress. Many people have one or more risk factors and are not suicidal. Other risk factors include prior suicide attempt; family history of mental disorder or substance abuse, family history of suicide, family violence, including physical or sexual abuse, firearms in the home, incarceration, and exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, including family members, peers, or even in the media. Kolmsee said that being exposed to suicide can reduce the natural self-defense or protection factor that people inherently have.
“Prevention programs must be carefully tested to determine if they are safe, truly effective, and worth the considerable cost and effort needed to implement and sustain them,” said Kolmsee. “Preventive efforts to reduce suicide should be based on research that shows which risk and protective factors can be modified, as well as which groups of people are appropriate for the intervention. Many interventions designed to reduce suicidality also include the treatment of mental and substance abuse disorders.”
Older adults, as well as women who die by suicide, are likely to have seen a primary care provider in the year prior to their suicide. Improving the recognition and treatment of mental disorders and other suicide risk factors in primary care settings may be one avenue to prevent suicides among this group. Improving outreach to men at risk for suicide is a major challenge in need of investigation.
“If someone is known to be suicidal, he or she must not be left alone,” emphasizes Kolmsee. “Proximity is the first line of defense.”
In an emergency situation, call 911 for assistance. Preventing a suicide often takes the assistance of emergency responders. Also it is important to limit the person's access to firearms, medications, or other lethal methods for suicide. Kolmsee advises to try to get the person to seek help from his or her doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room.
If you need advice or more information on suicide prevention, contact the Oswego County Mental Hygiene Division at 963-5361 or the Oswego Hospital Mental Health 24-hour hotline at 343-8163. Or from your computer, access the following Web sites: New York State Office of Mental Health at www.omh.state.ny.us/ or Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at www.samhsa.gov/.
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