In light of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher who fatally shot his girlfriend on Saturday, then took his own life in front of his coach and general manager, there has been a media swarm around the issue of suicide.
The World Health Organization estimates that approximately one million people die each year from suicide. What drives so many individuals to take their own lives?
Suicide is a potentially preventable public health problem. In 2009, the last year for which statistics are available, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. That year, there were nearly 37,000 suicides, and one million people attempted suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
To those not in the grips of suicidal depression and despair, it’s difficult to understand what drives so many individuals to take their own lives. But a suicidal person is in so much pain that he or she can see no other option.
Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. Blinded by feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness and isolation, a suicidal person can’t see any way of finding relief except through death. But despite their desire for the pain to stop, most suicidal people are deeply conflicted about ending their own lives. They wish there was an alternative to committing suicide, but they just can’t see one.
If you or someone you know has three or more symptoms of depression and they have persisted for more than two weeks, see your doctor – except for suicidal thoughts, that is an emergency – seek help now!
According to Mayo Clinic, when someone says he or she is thinking about suicide, or says things that sound as if the person is considering suicide, you may not be sure what to do to help, whether you should take talk of suicide seriously, or if your intervention might make the situation worse. Taking action is always the best choice.
The Mayo Clinic offers some tips on what to do:
The first step is to find out whether the person is in danger of acting on suicidal feelings. Be sensitive, but ask direct questions. Asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings.
If you believe someone is in danger of committing suicide or has made a suicide attempt don’t leave the person alone. Call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room yourself. Try to find out if he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or may have taken an overdose. Tell a family member or friend right away what’s going on. If a friend or family member talks or behaves in a way that makes you believe he or she might commit suicide, don’t try to handle the situation without help — get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible.
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Don’t play it down or ignore the situation. Many people who commit suicide have expressed the intention at some point. You may worry that you’re overreacting, but the safety of your friend or loved one is most important.
You’re not responsible for preventing someone from taking their life — but your intervention may help the person see that other options are available to stay safe and get treatment.