Spring is in the air! The days are getting longer, the thermometer is creeping up. The browns and grays of winter are changing to the green of spring. This is also the peak time of year for giving up or suicide.
There are over 38,000 suicide deaths each year in the US. It is the 10th leading cause of death overall, and the 3rd leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds, but occurs in all ages, genders, and socioeconomic classes. And since we started keeping track in the 1800’s, the peak month for suicide is May in the Northern Hemisphere, and September in the Southern Hemisphere. No one knows why exactly, but there are several ideas.
One idea is increased or changing social interaction in the spring is somehow related. Prisons, with strictly controlled social interaction year-round, do not have seasonal changes in the incidence of suicide. Another thought is the increased energy level associated with springtime. People with depression may not have the energy to follow through with suicide during the winter months, when depression is often at its worst. A third idea is that chronic inflammation contributes. High levels of inflammatory compounds in the body correlate with increased suicidal thoughts, and increased suicide levels are seen during times of high pollen counts and increased air pollution, both of which cause inflammatory processes.
Regardless of why or when suicide happens, it is important to understand how to recognize risk factors and what to do about it. Suicide “happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain”. The pain can have a physical cause, but more commonly is psychologic pain, which is no less real, due to depression, anxiety, grief, or stress. The most common conditions associated with suicide are death or terminal illness of a loved one, alcohol or drug abuse, depression, anxiety, divorce/separation, and loss of health, home, money, job, status, self-esteem and/or personal security. Notice that pain itself is not in the list, although many of the possible results of chronic pain are. Interestingly, all of these things can make physical pain worse, and can impair our ability to cope with physical pain. It’s important to recognize that each of us has different methods and abilities to cope, and that each of us can improve our resources for coping with pain.
Warning signs that someone is thinking about suicide include behavioral changes such as increased drug or alcohol use; withdrawal from friends, family and activities; increased irritability or rage, or extreme reactions to certain situations; changes in sleep habits, increased or decreased; visiting or calling people to say goodbye; giving away prized possessions; seeking access to firearms, pills, or other means of suicide. If a person talks or writes about being a burden to others, feeling trapped, unbearable pain, having no reason to live, or killing themselves, especially with the behavior changes and conditions associated with suicide, it is important to take the signs very seriously.
If you suspect someone is thinking about or planning suicide, talk to them, plainly and directly, without judgment or shock. You can’t “put the idea in someone’s head,” but you can let them know it’s OK to talk about it with you. Be supportive, but don’t swear to secrecy, cover up for them, or participate with them in unhealthy behaviors like drinking. Encourage them to get help, from family, friends, a medical or mental health professional, suicide hotline, or clergy. Get help in managing your own response to their distress. Asking for help in a difficult situation is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of maturity and strength. We all go through difficult times. We can be there for one another. We can help each other cope.
For more information:
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- The National Council for Suicide Prevention
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Phones are manned 24/7, English and Spanish. There is a prompt for veterans who would like to be connected to a veterans’ suicide prevention hotline specialist.
- Suicide…Read This First
- Everything Is Awful and I’m Not Okay
At North Shore Pain Management we provide advanced, evidence based, multidisciplinary and cost effective pain management. Our goal is to improve your ability to return to the activities you have been missing as well as provide a meaningful reduction in pain.