Approximately 30,000 people in the United States die by suicide each year. Suicide is the 10th cause of death in the country, with the highest suicide rate in middle-aged white men. Although women are twice as likely to suffer from depression than men, men are four times more likely to commit suicide. Studies suggest that men are less likely to seek professional help for their emotional and mental health problems due to mental illness-related stigma and strong masculinity norms that expect them to bottle up their feelings and be brave and tough.
Also, it appears that men are unwilling to seek support from family members and friends, rather engaging in self-harming behaviors such as violence, drug, and alcohol abuse. Therefore, men with mental health problems usually remain unknown, undiagnosed, and untreated.
Studies show that men experiencing depression are among the highest risk groups for suicide, regardless of age. Adolescents also represent a high-risk group, since suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers.
While not every depressive person is suicidal, most people who commit suicide are dealing with depression. Paula Clayton, MD, medical director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in New York City, believes that the link between depression and suicide is very strong. She states that sixty percent of people who kill themselves have major depression while ninety percent have some kind of mental disorder.
Nevertheless, there are some components of a major depressive disorder as well as some factors other than depression potentially linked to suicidal intent.
What are the Risk Factors for Suicide?
Apart from a major depressive disorder, a serious risk factor for suicide is alcohol and substance abuse. Research shows that about one in four people who commit suicide have alcohol in their bloodstream at the time of death.
Other major risk factors for suicide include:
- Presence of another untreated mental illness such as generalized anxiety, bipolar disorder, and substance and alcohol abuse
- A personal history of past suicide attempts
- A family history of mental illness, suicide attempts or suicide or substance abuse
- A history of violence and child abuse in the family
- Withdrawal and isolation from others
- Chronic illness
- Easy access to weapons
- Poor impulse control and a tendency toward aggression
- A recent significant life change that escalates feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness: loss of a loved one, a relationship or a job.
The second-highest suicide rate is among people 85 years or older. The suicidal risk factors for the elderly include depressive disorders, losses and loneliness, and deprived body image and diminished self-esteem that result from aging.
A Correlation between Hopelessness and Suicide
Studies show that hopelessness may be a stronger indicator of suicidal intention than depression itself. Hopelessness is a cognitive component of the depressive syndrome; negative expectations from the future have a strong correlation with suicide. Research indicates that depression is not significantly related to suicidal intention when hopelessness is controlled. Also, one study demonstrates that patients with mental health disorders other than depression may show a constantly high level of hopelessness with each new episode. That is, a high level of hopelessness during one episode may predict high hopelessness during a later episode, and consequently may lead to eventual suicide.
These findings are important, as they suggest that therapeutic approaches focused on relieving hopelessness may be successful in preventing suicide. That is to say, the most important suicide preventing interventions include recognizing and treating these disorders on time.