Understanding Suicide

Understanding Suicide

VT Suicide Prevention Center (vtspc.org) promotes public and well informed conversation about suicide prevention in Vermont. There is a pressing need to understand the prevalence of suicide as a public health problem and that there are effective approaches to preventing it. Vermont has a higher than national average suicide rate across all age groups. According to Dr. Tom Delaney of the UVM Larner College of Medicine, suicide death rates in Vermont have been about 30% higher than U.S. rates, during the most recent years for which Vermont and national data are available. According to the American Association of Suicidology in 2015, the suicide death rate is 16.5 per 100,000 in Vermont versus 13.8 per 100,000 deaths by suicide nationally. About one person dies by suicide every four days in the state of Vermont.

Suicide is the 8th leading cause of death in Vermont across all age groups and more than six times as many people die by suicide than by homicide. 2nd leading cause of death for Vermonters aged 15-34 according to data from the CDC. Suicide deaths are higher among older adults, veterans, males, white people, and middle-aged, with these groups having higher numbers in Vermont and nationally. Between 2012 through 2015, looking across all age groups in Vermont and per hundred thousand, young people aged 15-24 died by suicide at a rate of 15.5, adults aged 25-44 died by suicide at a rate of 19.6, adults aged 45 to 64 died by suicide at a rate of 22.5, and older adults 65 years of age and above died by suicide at a rate of 19.4 per 100,000. Self-reported suicide ideation rates on the VT Youth Risk Behavior Survey also increased among youth aged 10-24 years, from 23.7 per 10,000 to 29.0 per 10,000.  Middle-aged males, on average, had about 4 times as many suicide deaths across all age groups than by females in Vermont.  Vermont depends on data about suicide from very limited data sources. “We know this may not be the whole picture and that data may not be definitive,” explains Dr. Delaney.

Misconception: Suicide is mainly a problem in specific age groups.

Reality: Suicide can affect all individuals at any one point in time and suicide risk factors do not discriminate. This means that people of all ages are vulnerable to suicide ideation and attempts.

Misconception: Suicide attempts are really just about people feeling sad and hopeless.

Reality: Most people who die by suicide have an underlying mental health condition such as depression, anxiety disorder, substance use disorder, or a personality disorder. Other suicide risk factors include increased use of alcohol and other drugs, feelings of anxiety, agitation, and recklessness, sleeping too little or too much, feeling isolated or withdrawn from others, or displaying extreme mood swings. Signs of a depressive disorder include irritability, lack of energy, changes in dietary habits, changes in appearance, restlessness, and changes in activities that a person once found pleasurable. A strong emphasis on building skills for redirecting thinking, coping, help-seeking, self-care and communication has been shown to be effective for treating risk factors for suicide.

Misconception: If a person wants to kill themselves, they will find a way.

Reality: The vast majority of all people who make an attempt do not die by suicide.  A previous suicide attempt is an important risk factor and must be addressed directly in treatment. With help and support, suicidal people can recover their mental health and well-being. It is important after any traumatic event to plan positive changes to the environment to facilitate recovery.

Misconception: A suicide attempt is typically triggered by a stressful life event.

Reality: One event in a person’s life cannot explain the complex causes of suicidal behavior. Common explanations for suicide are isolation, stressors, inability to seek help from loved ones or from mental health professionals, and lack of access to mental health services. Health factors that can influence suicide behavior include mental health status, chronic pain, or traumatic brain injury. Historical risk factors may include family history of suicide, child abuse, or previous suicide attempts. Environmental risk factors include access to lethal means, and stressful events such as harassment, bullying, recent death, divorce, or job loss. With help, all of these factors can be addressed over time, before a person arrives at a suicidal crisis or when they are in the midst of one.

Misconception: There’s not much you can do for someone who is truly suicidal.

Reality: You do not need to be a mental health professional or doctor to aid someone through a suicidal crisis.  The Umatter Suicide Prevention program, based on national evidence-based practices, provides a framework for what to do if you think someone is having suicidal thoughts: 1) Listen and show you care. 2) Ask: Are you thinking of hurting or killing yourself? This will not increase a person’s suicidal thoughts.   3) Get Help. Assist in finding help through your local mental health agency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 211, or Text VT 741741.

More information about risk factors and warning signs for suicide can be found on the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center website, at www.vtspc.org.

You can support the work of the Center for Health and Learning and VT Suicide Prevention Center by participating in their Global Giving Accelerator crowdfunding campaign!  Between September 11th and September 29th, CHL will raise a minimum of $7,500 from 40 unique donors!  Visit the www.vtspc.org and contribute today!

If you are feeling suicidal, or are concerned about someone else, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text VT to 741741 for the Vermont Crisis Text Line service, or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org to text/chat.

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