According to the CDC, suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. In 2020, an estimated 12.2 million adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million made a plan, and 1.2 million attempted suicide. Suicide rates in 2020 were 30% higher than in 2000. A variety of factors can increase or decrease a population’s risk for suicide. Quality of life, ethnicity, past trauma, and access to resources all play a very large role. Certain communities find themselves more vulnerable due to these factors. Veterans, tribal populations and middle-aged men are all at higher risk for a variety of reasons.
Veterans have an adjusted suicide rate that is 52% greater than the non-veteran U.S. adult population. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, recent estimates suggest that 22 veterans may die by suicide each day. According to the Department of Defense Suicide event report, the most common demographic characteristics are non-hispanic white males under the age of thirty and currently enlisted. Mental illness and substance misuse are also risk factors. Veterans who misuse drugs or alcohol are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than other veterans.
Co-occurring mental disorders are often associated with substance misuse and suicide. Common mental disorders among veterans are PTSD and depression. For example, exposure to trauma or suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI) while in the service increase the risk of both substance misuse and PTSD or depression. While the risk factors sound grim, there are protective factors. Effective care for physical and mental health problems, life skills training, and social connectedness help to diminish their risk. The Veteran Crisis Line has resources to assist with these issues.
Suicide is the 9th leading cause of death among American Indians and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people. These populations have higher suicide rates than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. According to SAMHSA, Alaska had the second highest suicide rate in the nation in 2017. Historical trauma, poverty, and isolation are among the factors that make these communities more vulnerable. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center reports there are some challenges to understanding their suicide rates such as tribal affiliation is often not recorded, tribes may also have different definitions of “suicide” and may be reluctant to share that data. Family connectedness, spirituality, and cultural identification are all protective factors for these communities. Making sure to factor in the specific needs of each community is paramount for successful prevention. Mental Health America and the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline have resources specifically for the AI/AN community.
Men between the ages of 35 and 64 years-old have a suicide rate that is more than double the
national average, while men over 85 have the highest rate in the county. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center tells us that according to an analysis of data from the National Violent Death Reporting System, the four most common precipitating circumstances without known substance misuse or mental health condition were intimate partner problems, criminal/legal problems, jobs/financial problems, and health problems. Men are less likely to seek help for a mental health condition, which makes them at even higher risk. The protective factors are proper healthcare, social connectedness to family and friends, coping and problem-solving skills, and identifying reasons for living. Check out Man Therapy for men’s mental health information and support resources with a dose of humor. Movember also has men's mental health and suicide prevention resources.
High school students identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual attempt suicide at a rate nearly four times higher than heterosexual students. 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline reports that over 80% of LGBTQ+ youth have been assaulted or threatened, and every instance of victimization in an LGBTQ+ person’s life more than doubles the likelihood of self-harming. Stress from lack of acceptance from their family and community and feelings of isolation are among the factors that contribute to their vulnerability. Whereas, the protective factors are a sense of safety, a community of friends, and love and acceptance from their family. The Trevor Project is a great national resource and you can find local resources on The Hub website. Check out our blog for additional resources for caregivers and families to learn how to support their kids.
Suicide is Preventable
We all play a role. The most important thing is to learn the warning signs and know how to respond. A great way to do that is to take a QPR training, which teaches you how to get help for yourself, learn more about preventing suicide, common causes of suicidal behavior, warning signs of suicide, and how to get help for someone in crisis. QPR training is a great way to gain more confidence to talk to a loved one about suicide. The Hub offers virtual trainings twice a month. Sign up at TheHubCT.org/events.
If you are concerned about someone, here is what you should do:
Ask- Ask them “are you thinking about suicide” it shows them you are open to conversation and are nonjudgemental about how they are feeling. Asking in a direct unbiased manner can help open the door to an effective conversation. You can also ask them about how they are hurting and if there is anything you could do to help. Just make sure you never promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret. In addition to asking, it’s important to listen. Listen to how they are hurting and for any potential reasons they want to stay alive. Make sure you take them seriously.
Be There- Show support by either physically being there with them on the phone or in any other way that may support them. If you can’t be there physically, help them find someone who can be there in person in moments of need. Listening and following through is critical, do not make promises you are unable to keep. Being there and limiting their feeling of isolation while creating a sense of connectedness is life-saving.
Keep Them Safe- After initially listening to them and determining if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts it is important to find out key information that can help keep them safe. Have they made any attempts at killing themselves? Do they have a detailed plan? Have they thought about timing? And do they have access to carry out this plan? Each of these questions helps determine the severity of the crisis. The more detailed their plan, the higher the severity. For example, determining they currently have access to a firearm and are very serious about attempting suicide would warrant calling for emergency help or driving them to the emergency room. Limiting someone’s access to lethal means is an important part of suicide prevention. Many studies have shown that when lethal means are made less available, suicide rates by that method decline, and frequently suicide rates overall decline.
Help Them Connect- Helping someone connect with resources like 988 can help them create a safety net for moments of crisis. Ask them if they are seeing a mental health professional or if they have access to one. You can also help them look for local community resources that can help. Help them create a safety plan for when they are in crisis. Those who have made use of the prevention hotline and other resources have been found to be less depressed, less suicidal, and more hopeful after reaching out.
Follow Up- After your initial contact and after you have helped them connect to a resource, follow up with them. Call, text, or leave a message and see how they are doing and if there is any other way you are able to help them. This helps to increase their feelings of connectedness and support.
In Connecticut, you can also call or text 988 to get support to help you navigate a mental health crisis. If you or your loved one is in immediate danger, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.