Tragically, the rate of suicides has been steadily climbing for the past decade, becoming the 10th highest preventable cause of death in the U.S. In the younger demographic including teens and young adults, suicide has risen dramatically, becoming the 2nd leading cause of preventable death in this age group. With increasing evidence of mental health and substance use disorders on the rise, suicide awareness and prevention should be a top priority.
Increased Suicide Awareness During COVID-19
The pandemic has contributed to a concerning rise in suicides in recent months, according to an article published in JAMA. Isolation amid physical distancing policies, illness or loss of a loved one from COVID-19, and financial repercussions due to job losses have contributed to increases in substance use, depression, and anxiety.
While no one is immune to the pressures and struggles of daily life, there are certain risk factors that are associated with suicide. These factors, including health, environmental, and historical factors, are the characteristics or conditions that can increase the risk of an individual resorting to suicide. Some of these risk factors include:
- Substance use disorder
- Mental health disorder
- A history of trauma or abuse
- Prolonged stress
- Enduring negative life events, such as loss of a loved one, divorce, job loss
- Serious or chronic health conditions
- Family history of suicide
- Previous suicide attempts
Loss of a loved one to suicide is a tragedy that can be averted through an increase in awareness of the suicide warning signs. According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, the red flags include:
- Being despondent or hopeless
- Eating or sleeping habits change
- Appearing anxious or agitated
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Increasing substance use
- Expressing feelings of being overwhelmed
- Expressing guilt or shame, feeling humiliated
- Seeking information or items for suicide plan
- Increasing high risk behaviors
- Losing interest in activities usually enjoyed
- Exhibiting fatigue
- Saying they feel like a burden to others
- Making a will, putting affairs in order
- Giving away their prized possessions
- Obtaining the means to com
- Saying goodbye to loved ones
- Talking of death or suicide
Because of the link between substance use and suicide, someone struggling with a substance use problem can reduce the risk of suicide by participating in a comprehensive treatment program. Completing residential treatment will equip them with new coping skills acquired through cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as a personal relapse prevention plan, and participation in the 12-step recovery process. All of these will help the individual in recovery better manage stressors and regulate emotions more effectively.
Have a Suicide Prevention Plan
If you or a loved one is experiencing increasing depression or hopelessness, be proactive and work with a psychotherapist to create a suicide prevention plan. This will include listing the potential situations, emotions, or behaviors that might increase the risk of suicide. Following these precursors, list some relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, practicing mindfulness, listening to soothing music, or taking a walk, which can help de-escalate the risk. Follow with a list of your specific reasons for living and some contacts you can reach out to for support or company. Also included in the suicide prevention plan should be the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255.
Acknowledging the increased stressors we are currently experiencing during the pandemic is a first step in increasing awareness. While winding our way through an emotionally vulnerable period in life, being aware of the risks to our mental health and having a plan to access support are protective steps we can all take.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formally Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.