Suicide: The Third Leading Cause of Death in America

Tanya Lister

After completing her morning tasks at the Adolescent Residential Treatment Center (RTC), my sister walked into her room after telling a friend she was going to rest until lunch. Twelve o’ clock arrived, and she was nowhere to be seen. After looking throughout the building, a resident of the center went to my sister’s room to see if she could still be sleeping. She walked into my sister’s room and saw her hanging. My sister had committed suicide.

Throughout each year, many teens commit suicide. The rate continues to increase each year, and it must come to an end. More than 32,000 people die by suicide each year in the United States, or about 80 suicides per day; another 1,500 unsuccessful suicide attempts occur each day. In the 15 to 24 year age group, suicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

In a survey of high school students, the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center found that almost 1 in 5 teens had thought about suicide, about 1 in 6 teens had made plans for suicide, and more than 1 in 12 teens had attempted suicide in the last year.

When suicide occurs, everyone is affected. Family members, friends, teammates, neighbors, and sometimes even those who didn’t know the teen might experience feelings of grief, confusion, guilt, and the sense that if only they had done something differently, the suicide could have been prevented.

In today’s media driven world, it can be hard to safeguard children and teens from acting out in violence. Many crimes, such as murder, arson, burglary, and grand theft auto, have been traced back to television, movies, and video games. Suicide also has a special place in mass media. People who were close to someone who may have acted out in violence toward themselves or to others have tried to sue the entertainment industry for their grief.

Because of our First Amendment Right to Free Speech, musical “artists” such as Marilyn Manson, have every “right” to create songs like, “Disposable Teens” and “Suicide is Painless.” For many years activists have been fighting to put a ban on such filth, but have been unsuccessful.

Although musical genres such as heavy metal and rap can have lyrics relating to suicide, murder, and other acts of violence, a recent poll has concluded country music is most likely to cause suicide. The entertainment industry should really be more responsible, but so should our parents.

                To help prevent suicide, one must understand the causes that can lead to suicide and learn how to help.

                The first step to helping someone who may be suicidal is recognizing the signs. When firearms are in a household, the chances of suicide increase. Almost 60 percent of suicides are carried out with a gun. Therefore, any firearms in any home should be unloaded, locked, and hidden from children and adolescents.

                Girls are far more likely to commit suicide than boys are.

“Girls think about committing suicide about twice as often as boys, and tend to attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves. Yet boys die by suicide about four times as often as girls, perhaps because they tend to use more fatal methods, such as firearms, hanging, or jumping from extreme heights.” Mathew Nock from “About Teen Suicide”

Why do so many teens attempt or commit suicide? Why has the number of suicides and attempted suicides increased so dramatically in recent years? One reason is the relationship between depression and suicide.

While some don’t show any signs, adolescents can present many signs while thinking about or before attempting suicide. Looking out for these signs can actually help parents, friends, teachers, and neighbors prevent someone from carrying out the act. Some signs are easier to spot than others. The strongest risk factors for attempted suicide in teens are: depression, alcohol or drug abuse, and aggressive or disruptive behaviors. Teens that come from alcoholic or abusive families, have suffered physical or sexual abuse, lack parental support, and have a history of family depression are also at great risk. These factors are usually the earliest of signs. Depressed moods, substance abuse, frequent episodes of running away or being incarcerated, and impulsive, aggressive behavior are all signs that are often exhibited in teens that have the highest risk of committing suicide.

Other signs sometimes displayed by those thinking about suicide are anxiety, psychic pain, inner tension, withdrawal, sleep problems, threatening suicide, expressing a strong wish to die, making a plan such as giving away prized possessions, sudden or impulsive purchase of a firearm or obtaining other means of killing oneself such as poisons or medications, and unexpected rage or anger.

If any of these behaviors are observed in an adolescent, the most important thing an individual can do is to take these thoughts seriously. Talking about it “can make a huge difference because a lot of the time people who feel suicidal feel they don’t have somebody to talk to,” said Debra Poole, manager of the Behavioral Unit at Owensboro Medical Health System. Fifty to seventy five percent of suicides give early warnings of their motives to a friend or relative.

One must also be willing to listen. It is important to let the depressed individual know that you are concerned for them. Don’t be afraid to ask whether they are considering suicide and let them know depression is only temporary and it can be treated.

If one does not really know the individual, ask whether they are taking medication or seeing a doctor. “Bringing it up does not cause them to think about it. It won’t change their ideas about it,” Poole said. “It will let them know you care about them if you ask.” If they are not seeking medical help, seeking professional help is very important. If one must, help them find help and even take them there if possible. Sometimes, finding help can be one of the most significant things a person can do for a suicidal individual.

Sometimes, a person’s suicidal thoughts or acts could be more critical. If a friend or loved one is threatening, talking about or making plans for suicide, these are signs of an acute crisis. Staying near the person, removing any firearms, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used for suicide, or taking the person to an emergency room could help the situation. If the above options are unavailable, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Frequently Asked Questions

The following questions were chosen from emails the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) received. “Many of these questions come from young teens struggling to understand the suicide attempts of friends, and trying to learn how they can help” (Gebbia).

What percentage of college students who kill themselves are male? Why do you think more/ less boya than girls kill themselves?
Seventy-five to 80 percent are boys although more girls attempt suicide. Boys are more involved than girls in all forms of aggressive and violent behavior (Gebbia).

I’ve heard that suicides are more frequent around the holidays? Is this true, and if so, how much do they increase at that time?
Suicides are not more frequent during the holidays. It appears that the rates are the highest in April, and the summer months, June and July (Gebbia).

It is often said that a suicidal person goes through a period where he seeks for help from other people. Does this then mean that it could be ultimately the fault of other people (because they don’t appear concerned enough) that one decides to kill him/herself?
Not a fair conclusion, although it could be a contributing factor in some cases particularly with elderly, terminally ill people (Gebbia).

What is the biggest cause of suicide among college students?
Ninety-five percent are suffering from mental illness, usually depression. If depressed, substance abuse, anxiety, impulsivity, rage, hopelessness and desperation increase the risk (Gebbia).

Apart from talking to a suicidal person and encouraging him/her to go for counseling, what else can we do to prevent this?
Going with someone to the counselor often helps. If the person won’t listen to you, you may need to talk to someone who might influence him or her. Saving a life is more important than violating a confidence (Gebbia).

People often get uncomfortable when one discloses something as intimate and frightening as suicidal thoughts. What do you think can be done to reduce this stigma, either of suicidal people, or of depressive patients? Can people actually “change” their minds and accept someone who is suicidal?
As people recognize that suicidal behavior is the result of a medical condition not a sign of weakness or character defect it will change (Gebbia).

What is the most frequent method of suicide? Is the most frequent method different for men and women?
Fifty-two percent of all people who kill themselves do so with a firearm, accounting for almost 17,000 deaths each year in the U.S. Use of a firearm is the number one method in those aged 35 and up (Gebbia). is powered by WordPress µ | Spam prevention powered by Akismet