Suicide is often a response to very stressful life events. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Suicide, the taking of one’s own life, kills 30,000 people in the United States and one million people around the world each year. Young people, particularly aged 15 to 24, and people older than 65 are most likely to attempt suicide. Adolescent boys 15 to 19 years of age are five times more likely to commit suicide than adolescent girls, and adult men 20 to 14 years of age are ten times as likely as women in that age group to commit suicide. About 10 in 100,000 Americans in general commit suicide yearly, compared to 21.5 for the nation with the highest overall suicide rates, Korea.

Veterans under the age of 24 are four times as likely as civilians to commit suicide, though veterans older than 24 remain 1.5 times more likely than non-veterans to kill themselves. In the United States, a veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes — that’s 6,500 veteran suicides per year, or more than 25 times the number of military deaths experienced on the battlefield. Among active duty military personnel, suicide rates are also high. The Army, which is the largest branch of the military and also the branch with the highest active-duty suicide rates, saw suicide rates of 23 per 100,000 in 2011, and an increase to 29 per 100,000 in the first seven months of 2012. In civilian life, the suicide rate is 18.5 per 100,000 for a comparable demographic.

Deeply stressful life events, including the loss of a job, debt, the death of a spouse or partner, the end of an important relationship, and serious illness, can trigger suicidal thoughts. Mental illness, especially depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders, or schizophrenia, may be behind as many as 90% of suicides. Physical illness or medication side effects can also trigger suicidal ideation and behaviors. In rare cases, suicide is performed as an act of political protest or as a means of protecting others. Treatment for suicidal thoughts or actions may involve:

  • Emergency medical care if a person is injured, including sedatives to calm down an agitated person.
  • Psychiatric drugs to treat an underlying mental illness.
  • Counseling to help the person explore the reasons behind their suicidal thoughts and feelings, and develop coping strategies.
  • Lifestyle changes. Strong social support, especially involvement in a religious community, a healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate rest can all help to control the symptoms of mental illness and ease suicidal thoughts.

Suicide is entirely preventable. Protect suicidal friends and loved ones by learning to recognize the warning signs of an impending suicide. People who are at risk for suicide exhibit symptoms such as depression, insomnia, drug and alcohol abuse, lack of interest in things or activities they once enjoyed, and social withdrawal. They may give away all their things, tidy up their personal affairs, and say what appear to be final goodbyes to loved ones. Some may talk about their plans, others will keep them secret.

If you or someone you know is suicidal, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) and other organizations exist to help you get counseling and medical help for yourself or someone else. If you think a loved one is in danger of harming him or herself, don’t leave them alone. If your loved one is injured or in danger of injuring themselves, call 911. If you are recovering from suicidal feelings, stick to your treatment plan; take any medications you’re prescribed and go to your counseling sessions. Surround yourself with people who love you, even if you feel like being alone, and take care of yourself — eat right, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly.

Additional Resources:

Suicide statistics by state, from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Statistics about mental disorders in the U.S., from the National Institute of Mental Health.

“Suicides Outpacing War Deaths for Troops,” and article in The New York Times by Timothy Williams.

Veterans Crisis Line, suicide prevention help for veterans.

The Samaritans NYC, a suicide prevention hotline with information about getting help for suicidal feelings, preventing suicide, and dispelling myths about suicide.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) home page, resources for the mentally ill and their families.

Community and Awareness Support Center home page, a resource for people who have been affected by, or are considering, murder-suicide.

Survivors of Suicide home page, a support group for those left in the wake of suicide.

“If you are thinking about suicide, read this first,” coping advice for people struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center home page, encouraging suicide prevention through public programs and individual action.