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Suicide in Adults

separator Probably the most important thing there is to know about suicide is that most cases are caused by depression, bipolar disorder or some other psychiatric disorder. Suicide rarely happens “out of the blue.” In most cases, there’s been a long, troubled history of mental illness. Often, the ones who commit suicide successfully have made attempts before.

Suicide seems to run in families. It’s not clear whether this is because of genetics, environment, or both. In other words, experts aren’t sure whether it runs in families because of the tendency to inherit mental illness, or because those who commit suicide serve as a kind of “role model” to others in the family.

Who’s Most at Risk?
Older white males have the highest rates of suicide. In fact, age is a significant risk factor. But people of both genders and all ages do kill themselves, so you can’t rule anybody out. In addition to depression and other mental illness, risk factors for suicide include:

  • Family history of suicide
  • An earlier suicide attempt
  • Firearm in the home
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Exposure to suicide of friend or family member (especially true for teenagers)

What can loved ones do?
It’s not true that people talk about suicide “just to get attention.” Friends and family members should take any comments about suicide seriously. Other signs that indicate someone may be thinking of killing himself include:

  • Giving away valued belongings
  • Writing a will
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Lack of interest in the future
  • Comments such as “You’d be better off without me,” or “Maybe I won’t be around anymore.”

If you’re concerned that someone you care about is thinking about committing suicide, the worst thing to do is nothing at all. A suicidal person needs professional treatment. If your loved one does not seek treatment, you should call the therapist or family physician—immediately.

Here are some things you should NOT do if you believe someone close to you wants to commit suicide:

  • Don’t accuse the person of being dramatic or lazy or trying to get attention
  • Don’t tell the person to “snap out of it.”

Anybody who is severely depressed is completely unable to snap out of it. A suicidal person needs to get professional treatment immediately.

American Association of Suicidology; H. Kaplan, B. Sadock, J. Grebb, Synopsis of Psychiatry, Williams and Wilkins, 1994; The National Institute for Mental Health; The National Mental Health Association.
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