September is Suicide Prevention Month

By Heather McNany, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention Program Manager

Suicide is an issue that affects all Americans.

It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 1999 through 2014, suicide rates increased 24 percent in the general population for both males and females, according to the most recent CDC data reported in April 2016.

The statistics are startling. According to the CDC, in 2015:

  • Suicide claimed the lives of more than 44,000 people.
  • Suicide was the third leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 14, and the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15 and 34.
  • There were more than twice as many suicides (44,193) in the U.S. as there were homicides (17,793).

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that in 2015:

  • The annual age-adjusted suicide rate was 13.26 per 100,000 individuals.
  • Men die by suicide nearly four times more often than women.
  • On average, there are 121 suicides per day with white males accounting for seven of 10 suicides.

The Department of Veterans Affaris reported that in 2014, the latest year available, that:

  • More than 7,400 veterans died by suicide.- Veterans accounted for 18 percent of all suicides in America, yet veterans make up less than 9 percent of the U.S. population.
  • Approximately 65 percent of all veterans who died from suicide in 2014 were 50 years of age or older.

The Defense Suicide Prevention Office reports that for the first quarter of 2016, the military services reported:

  • 58 deaths by suicide in the active component
  • 18 deaths by suicide in the Reserves
  • 34 deaths by suicide in the National Guard

According to the Uniformed Services University’s Center for Deployment Psychology, suicide rates have been historically lower in the military than in the general population.

However, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military suicide rates have been increasing and surpassing the rates for society at large.

Many other factors foster suicide, as well. For example, disrupted families, religion (or lack of a spiritual component in one’s life), and having family, friends or celebrities commit suicide elevates an individual’s risks of trying suicide.

Availability of drugs and firearms is a factor, too.

Suicide in the military is a very serious problem. The Army has had the highest proportional number of suicides compared to the other services per the DSPO’s report.

Intervention, such as being there for your friend, loved one or battle buddy, is the biggest factor in preventing suicide.

According to the World Health Organization’s 2014 “Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative,” communities play a critical role in suicide prevention. They can provide social support to vulnerable individuals and engage in follow-up care, fight stigma and support those bereaved by suicide.

The Department of Defense has taken steps in the community to increase suicide prevention efforts. The DoD has ordered command stand-downs, mandated classes on suicide prevention, created videos, and encouraged leadership to ensure that all commanders are taking care of the service members under their care.

The DSPO suggests that everyone plays a positive role in suicide prevention. Communities, peers, close friends and the media are critical in preventing death by suicide.

If you are concerned about a friend or loved one, the DSPO offers these suggestions:

• Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.

• Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.

• Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture about the value of life.

• Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.

• Don’t dare him/her to do it.

• Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.

• Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek help.

• Offer hope that alternatives are available, but do not offer general reassurances such as: “It will get better” or “It could be worse.”

• Get help from individuals or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention, such as Military Crisis Line.

Editor’s note: For more information, call Heather McNany at 301-677-6558.

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