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SUICIDE: Prevention more urgent than ever

Last Sunday marked the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Week, and the need to stop individuals from taking their own lives is more urgent than ever.

In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary data on suicides in the United States in 2022, and the agency found that close to 50,000 people died by their own hand last year – the highest number on record. That’s 15 people per 100,000, making it the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, just ahead of influenza and pneumonia. Generally, suicide rates in the United States have been steadily increasing for the last 15 years.

The data indicated that the old were more likely to take their own lives than the young, with suicide among those aged 65 or older seeing the greatest increase. And more than half of the suicides in 2022 were carried out with guns. The Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University has reported that the number of suicides where guns were used increased by 10% between 2019 and 2021, just as the number of suicides that did not involve guns fell by 8%. Thousands and thousands of Americans die every year from gun-related injuries, and usually more than half of those are self-inflicted.

What is the reason for the increase? Experts point to such eternal problems as loneliness, substance abuse, and economic uncertainty, the latter of which was exacerbated as a result of COVID-19. It’s been said that the United States is in the midst of a mental health crisis, and a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 20% of adults in the country described their mental health as being just “fair” or “poor.”

Robin Lee, an epidemiologist with the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, told The New York Times, “Suicide is complex and is rarely caused by a single issue.”

When someone you know or love dies as a result of suicide, it’s perhaps inevitable to look back and see what clues there might have been in the weeks and months beforehand. Experts say that warning signs to look out for include out-of-the-ordinary behavior like giving away valued possessions, flashes of anger or agitation, mood swings, not sleeping well or sleeping too much, talking about being a burden or straightforwardly talking about suicide. A family history of suicide can also increase the chance that someone will try to take their own life.

Last year, a simple, three-digit suicide and crisis national hotline – 988 – was put in place. If people who are feeling suicidal dial text those three numbers, they can be connected to a licensed counselor who can offer help and guidance. Resources are also available at SpeakingOfSuicide.com.

And while the week ahead is National Suicide Prevention Week, trying to reduce the suicide rate is something that requires care and vigilance every week of the year.

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