Suicide can occur across demographics, but certain groups are more at risk than the general population. One startling fact we must remember is suicide claims the life of someone in the U.S. every 16 minutes. Suicide affects everyone, but some groups are at a higher risk than others. Nationally, women attempt suicide more often than men. Yet, men die more often from suicide attempts. Men represent 79 percent of all suicides in the U.S.
In Tennessee, an estimated 900 men, women and children die by suicide each year — more people than are lost to homicide, AIDS or drunk driving. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among youth and young adults age 15-24 in Tennessee. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, there were 4,535 recorded suicide deaths in our state in the last five years.
Tennessee is dealing with increasing rates of suicide among middle-aged adults hard hit by the recent recession and slow recovery. Also, many of the soldiers coming back from combat deployments suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. For our military personnel, on average (nationally) a member of the Armed Forces commits suicide every 36 hours. Additionally, for veterans suicide is the cause of death of an estimated 18 U.S. veterans each day.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for our young people (15- to 24-year-olds). According to the Tennessee Youth Risk Behavior Survey published in 2011 by the Tennessee Department of Education, 25.9 percent of high school students — approximately 1 in 4 — surveyed reported experiencing a period of sadness or hopelessness for two weeks or more that was severe enough to pull them away from their usual activities during a 12-month period. Some 14.7 percent, or 1 in 7, actually considered suicide during that period. One in 9 (11.1 percent of survey respondents) planned out how they would do it. One in 16 (6.2 percent) actually tried to take their own lives. Of those who attempted suicide, approximately 35 percent of them required medical attention for injuries related to the attempt.
What’s one of the biggest risk factors for suicide? According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, the answer is substance abuse. While 95 percent of individuals with a mental illness and/or substance use disorder will never complete suicide, several decades of evidence consistently suggest that as many as 90 percent of individuals who do complete suicide experience a mental or substance use disorder, or both.
Tim Tatum, Southeast Region chair for the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network and director of behavioral health for PineRidge says, “Suicide is devastating, but there are resources and information available to help prevent it. Suicide prevention in every state and community is important — even the loss of one life is too many. Recognizing some of these warning signs is the first step in helping yourself or someone you care about.”
No matter where you live, there are steps that can help prevent suicides and make a positive change in our community. The loss of someone to suicide resonates among family, friends, co-workers and others; it has been estimated that for each person who commits suicide, 5 to 10 other people are severely affected by the loss. Family and friends may experience a range of painful emotions such as shock, anger, guilt and depression.
All over the state, TSPN offers presentations and training sessions for schools, churches and civic groups, and partners with state departments and other nonprofits. TSPN also networks with faith-based groups to implement suicide prevention strategies, debriefs schools and other institutions affected by suicide death, and promotes awareness and educational events across the state of Tennessee.
For more information on the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, you may visit the TSPN website at http://tspn.org or call 615-297-1077. If you or someone you know exhibits any signs of suicidal behavior, seek help as soon as possible by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
(Editor’s Note: Today’s National Prevention Week “Viewpoint” was written and submitted by Tanya Southerland, executive director of the GRAAB Coalition. Friday’s installment will feature “Promotion of Mental, Emotional and Behavioral Well-Being.”)