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Spring sees suicide rates rise

Posted on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Becky Stoll

Becky Stoll

By Becky Stoll, Centerstone

“April is the cruelest month,” wrote T.S. Eliot about his own experience with depression. For some depressed individuals, April is not only cruel, it is deadly.

The myth that most suicides occur during the winter months is just that – a myth. It persists with the notion that lonely people become despondent during the holidays and take their lives. However, the incidence of suicide actually rises in the spring, peaking during the month of May, with a suicide rate 4 to 6 percent higher than the average for the rest of the year.

The ninth leading cause of death in Tennessee, suicide is the second leading cause of death for adults ages 25-34 and is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24. The highest suicide rates occur in the elderly, particularly white males 65 and older. Women attempt suicide three times more often than men, but men are four times more likely to complete suicide.

In Lincoln County, there were three resident suicide deaths in 2011, the latest year with released statistics.

Doctors first observed the spike in spring suicide rates in the 1820s. Explanations for this phenomenon vary. Some experts say people can chalk up their depression to the winter blues during darker months. However, when spring arrives and their spirits do not lift, those who are still depressed must confront their unhappiness. Other experts say that the increase in sunshine, which brings a natural energy boost, gives depressed individuals the drive to end their lives.

Whatever the cause, suicide is a serious epidemic in our country, and the number of suicides has continued to rise, reaching almost 37,000 in 2009 (Centers for Disease Control). Frightening statistics indicate that for every suicide there are 8 to 25 attempts.

The reasons for suicide are numerous, but relationship issues are usually at the core. Lack of meaningful connections, strained relationships, or the perception of being a burden can lead depressed persons to end their emotional pain. Other factors leading to suicidal behaviors include chronic pain, terminal illness, financial difficulties and alcohol/drug use.

Improperly stored firearms can also play a factor in suicide. Once individuals begin to contemplate taking their lives, the availability of firearms increases the likelihood that the individual will follow through. If someone is depressed, firearms should be removed from the home.

The internet has also become a culprit in suicide assistance. An integral part of our culture, it provides sites containing information on “the quickest, least painful” ways for taking one’s life.

Approximately 90 percent of people who complete suicide have a mental health disorder. Because of the stigma associated with it, many people already isolated by mental illness do not seek help. The most important thing you can do is be aware, know the warning signs and get help as soon as possible. Most people who contemplate suicide give some warning of their intention. Signs that someone might be contemplating suicide include withdrawal from friends/family, sadness, hopelessness, easily agitated and mood changes.

It can be hard to ask the tough questions, such as “Are you considering killing yourself?” or “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You may seem unsure or feel awkward in the moment, but those few words, and showing you care, can be the invitation your loved one needs to seek help – and it may even save a life.

If you are concerned that a loved one is considering suicide, or if you are contemplating taking your own life, there are numerous support services that can help. Centerstone’s crisis line is staffed 24 hours a day (800-681-7444) as is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK). Our Crisis Chat service can also be accessed via the internet through http://www.Centerstone.org/get-help-now. 

Becky Stoll, vice president of Crisis and Disaster Management, oversees the continuum of Centerstone’s Crisis Services. She is a Licensed Certified Social Worker and is Board Certified in Traumatic Stress and is a Certified Trauma Specialist. Ms. Stoll can be reached at becky.stoll@centerstone.org.