Suicide Prevention: Identifying Risk Factors and Noticing the Warning Signs

Thursday, September 12, 2013 1:39 PM comments (0)

suicideAccording to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide was the 10th leading cause of the death in the U.S. in 2009. That year there were 37,000 suicides, with one million reported attempted suicides. In the same year, suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

Suicide is a major health issue but it’s also a potentially preventable one. While there are several risk factors for suicide, any person who expresses suicidal thoughts or the intent to commit suicide should be taken seriously.  Risk factors for suicide include:

  1. Prior suicide attempts
  2. History and family history of mental disorders
  3. History and family history of substance abuse
  4. History of physical violence and sexual abuse
  5. Chronic illness and/or chronic pain
  6. Exposure to the suicidal behavior of family and friends

Knowing and acting on the signs of suicide exhibited by others could save thousands of lives each year. If someone appears depressed and/or expresses suicidal thoughts, it's important to listen closely and take that person seriously. It's especially important to be concerned if someone exhibits any of these signs and has also attempted suicide in the past, as most successful suicides were preceded by one or more attempts. 

Benjamin Shain, MD, PhD, Psychiatry at NorthShore, shares some of the warning signs of suicide and discusses what you can do to help a person who might be contemplating suicide:

  • Risk-taking behavior. Those who are contemplating suicide might “tempt fate” by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving at dangerous speeds. 
  • Losing interest in previously important activities and friends. Unexplained loss of interest in things like sports, work and volunteer activities might also be combined with a withdrawal from interactions with friends and self-imposed isolation.
  • Researching methods of suicide. Searching suicide online or buying anything that could be used to commit suicide is an important sign to watch for.
  • Talking about death and hopelessness. Conversations and discussions might center on death and wanting to die or on feelings of hopelessness and lacking reasons to live. Potentially suicidal people might also talk about being a burden to family and friends or experiencing unendurable pain.
  • Extreme shifts in mood. Periods of deep depression could be punctuated by feelings of elation, happiness or rage.
  • Increased substance abuse. A history of substance abuse is a risk factor for suicide but increased use could be a warning sign of suicidal thoughts.
  • Noticeable changes in sleep patterns. This could either be exhibited as sleeping too much or suffering from insomnia. 
  • Giving away possessions. Suddenly giving away multiple items that seemed important to the person in the past.

What should you do if you notice these behaviors in a friend or family member?

First, discuss your observations or concerns with the person and/or other friends or family members. Make sure to listen to the person’s concerns and what might be stressful for them. It's essential to urge the person to speak to their primary care physician and/or a mental health professional. If you believe they are an immediate risk to themselves, call 911. 

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Rediscovering your Happiness – Managing Depression

Thursday, February 28, 2013 3:26 PM comments (0)

Managing-DepressionIt’s one thing to occasionally feel down, unenergetic and tired out, especially given the busy lives so many of us lead. However, consistently experiencing feelings of sadness, exhaustion and anxiety to a point where it affects the rest of your life can be cause for concern.

Depression is a very common mental illness and impacts people in various ways. It is estimated that one in ten adults suffers from depression at some point during their lifetime.

Frederick Miller, MD, PhD, Psychiatrist at NorthShore, recognizes that living with depression can be a challenge. He offers the following tips for managing and coping with depression:

  • Don’t be afraid to seek help.  It may be hard to admit feelings of depression to others, but you shouldn’t have to go through it alone. Family members and friends may be able to help brighten your spirits, and encourage you to stay active and positive. It can also be helpful to talk with your physician, therapist or a support group for additional assistance.
  • Stay active. Exercise can help relieve stress and provide a positive boost to your emotional and physical health.
  • Keep a positive mental attitude. It's not just our experiences that influence our mood but how we interpret them. Are you prone to "personalizing," that is, taking blame for bad things that happen? If something runs amok, do you "catastrophize" and conclude that everything will always be doomed? You can actually train yourself to be more positive. Try journaling. Pick one event that generated negative feelings and force yourself to write down a more positive or at least balanced view of the situation. Over time, thinking more positively will become habit.
  • Seek out positive relationships. It may be hard to "reach out and touch someone" when you're feeling down but it can make a major difference. Call an old friend or send an email to a relative.
  • Find something meaningful to do. Helping others will make you feel good about yourself.
  • Consider getting a pet.
  • Plan a trip or to commit to a new hobby. Being goal-oriented helps to keep your spirits up.
  • Practice being mindful. Often, folks who are depressed spend too much time "in their heads." Take a walk and just "be." See how much you can notice using all of your senses: sight, sound, touch and taste.
  • Play some inspiring music.

What makes you happy? How to you manage feelings of sadness and/or depression?

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Men’s Mental Health – Getting Support When Needed

Thursday, June 14, 2012 2:28 PM comments (0)

Men's Mental HealthNo matter what your sex, our lives are often stressful. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious between balancing work, societal pressures and our personal lives.

When it comes to talking with others about these pressures and the emotional impact they may have, men typically tend to keep to themselves. While many men may open up to close friends and family members, mental health issues and concerns frequently aren’t addressed during a visit to the doctor.

Robert Farra, PhD
, gives the following recommendations to men about how to maintain good mental health:

  • Learn to live consciously and deliberately. Avoid living on autopilot, “just going through the motions.”  Take a class on mindfulness so you can learn to appreciate each moment of your life.
  • Don’t brood about things. Share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust.
  • Consider the two rules of life:
    Rule # 1:  Don’t sweat the small stuff.
    Rule # 2:  It’s all small stuff!

Some of the most common mental health conditions suffered by men include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Alcoholism/Problem drinking
  • Excessive stress

What do you do to help reduce stress and anxiety? Would you be comfortable talking to your physician about mental health issues?

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