Suicide occurs when a person ends their life. It is the 11th leading cause of death among Americans. But suicide deaths are only part of the problem. More people survive suicide attempts than actually die. They are often seriously injured and need medical care. Most people feel uncomfortable talking about suicide. Often, victims are blamed. Their friends, families, and communities are left devastated.

Why is suicide a public health problem?

  • More than 34,000 people kill themselves each year.
  • More than 376,000 people with self-inflicted injuries are treated in emergency rooms each year.

How does suicide affect health?

Suicide, by definition, is fatal. Those who attempt suicide and survive may have serious injuries like broken bones, brain damage, or organ failure. Also, people who survive often have depression and other mental health problems.

Suicide also affects the health of the community. Family and friends of people who commit suicide may feel shock, anger, guilt, and depression. The medical costs and lost wages associated with suicide also take their toll on the community.

Who is at risk for suicide?

Suicide affects everyone, but some groups are at higher risk than others. Men are 4 times more likely than women to die from suicide. However, 3 times more women than men report attempting suicide. In addition, suicide rates are high among middle aged and older adults.

Several factors can put a person at risk for attempting or committing suicide. But, having these risk factors does not always mean that suicide will occur.

Risk factors for suicide include:

  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • History of depression or other mental illness
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Family history of suicide or violence
  • Feeling alone

How can we prevent suicide?

The goal is to stop suicide attempts.

  • Learn the warning signs of suicide. Warning signs can include changes in a person's mood, diet, or sleeping pattern. The American Association of Suicidology (www.suicidology.org) has detailed information on what to look for and how to respond.
  • Get involved in community efforts. The National Strategy for Suicide Prevention lays out a plan for action. It guides the development of programs and seeks to bring about social change. For more information, go to www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/ suicideprevention/strategy.asp.
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