At No Fallen Heroes we are dedicated to the reduction and elimination of veteran suicide. Suicide among veterans is substantially more prevalent that suicide in the general population. In fact, it would appear that the commonly quoted statistics are wrong because reporting from most states in the USA is low by as much as a half. In order to work on reducing suicide risk and suicides it is important to understand who is at risk and how common that risk is. At the very root of the issue, how many people think of suicide and how many of these people progress to making plans or acting on impulse and trying to end their lives?
How Common Are Thoughts of Suicide?
Roughly six million Americans or not quite two out of every hundred admit to having had thoughts of suicide. Half of those or one out of a hundred have started making a plan. 1.4 million or half of those with a plan have taken some action that could have ended their lives. Of those individuals who attempt suicide, between ten and fifteen percent eventually take their own lives. Efforts to reduce and eliminate suicides need to be focuses on those most likely to take their own lives.
Where Is the Highest Incidence of Suicidal Ideation?
Thoughts of suicide or suicidal ideation are found in all age groups but the distribution is not equal throughout. Furthermore, the proportion of those in a given age group who will follow through with planning, an attempt, and ending their lives differs. For example, 6% of 18 to 25-year-olds admit to having considered suicide within the previous twelve months while for those over age 65 the incidence of suicidal ideation is 1.6%. However, white men over 76 while having a substantially lower incidence of suicidal thoughts have the highest incidence of suicide at 40 per 100,000. By comparison the incidence of suicide in the 18 to 25-year-old group is 17.5 per 100,000 for men and 4 per 100,00 for women. (Suicidal Ideation: Harmer, et. al.)
What Factors Turns Thoughts of Suicide into Plans?
There are known risk factors and protective factors that affect whether or not suicidal thoughts progress to plans, attempts, and suicide. These factors break down into personal, relationship, community, and society-related issues.
Personal Risk Factors for Suicide
These factors include a previous attempt to take one’s life, legal or criminal problems, financial issues or job loss, chronic and/or pain issues, substance abuse, depression or other mental illness, tendencies to be aggressive or impulsive, a sense of hopelessness, a difficult childhood, and a history of victimization and/or violence.
Relationship Risk Factors for Suicide
Issues in personal relationships that increase the risk of suicide include having been or being bullied, social isolation, the loss of a close relationship, violent relationships or relationships full of conflict, and loss of a loved on by suicide,
Community Risk Factors for Suicide
Community risk factors range from the stress of integrating into a new culture to the lack of health care in some communities. When there is a cluster of suicides in a community that increases the risk for those with problems like depression. Discrimination can be an issues as well as historical trauma of the community itself.
Societal Risk Factors for Suicide
These issues include the stigma that society attaches to mental illness and getting help for mental health problems. All too often the media portrays suicide in ways that increase the risk of suicide prone individuals. Also, availability of lethal means such as firearms is a major factor in increasing the frequency of thoughts and plans turning into completed suicide attempts.
Factors That Protect Against Suicide
Two individual can have equal levels of stress, social isolation, and similar chronic illnesses and have significantly different outcomes in regard to suicidal thoughts turning to plans, attempts and completed suicide.
Personal Factors That Protect Against Suicide
People with reasons to live such as family, friends or even pets are less likely to commit suicide. Those with strong problem-solving and coping skills are also less likely. An individual with a strong sense of their cultural identity is also less likely to follow through on suicidal thoughts.
Relationship Factors That Protect Against Suicide
The first issue here is that healthy relationships reduce suicide risk. These individuals get support from their friends, family, and partners. They feel connected to others. It should be noted that men who lose their partners in midlife and beyond have a significantly higher risk of suicide, especially if they turn to drink. Those who are not socially isolated often find similar support in their communities, churches, and organizations.
Community and Societal Protective Factors Against Suicide
When the level of heath care is high and it is readily available that reduce the risk of suicide in a community. Strong community organizations help also. When lethal means are less available this, in turn, reduces suicides. In some communities the cultural and religious prohibitions of suicide are so ingrained that they make a significant difference.