The month of September is being observed as the National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in the United States. It is a good time to make an effort to openly talk about the taboo topic. Working in this direction, a conference was held to understand the biology of the suicidal brain and possible role of genetics in triggering suicide. Organized by the USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, on Sept. 9, 2017, the 2nd Annual Suicide Awareness & Prevention Conference had over 250 people in attendance. The conference with the theme, “Shattering the Silence,” saw mental health experts from across the country discussing about suicide prevention and finding ways to support people with depression.
The six-hour seminar addressed the growing incidence of suicides in the country and suggested effective ways to deal with it. Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Victoria Arango, professor of neurobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, highlighted the role of the suicidal gene. Arango, who has a family history of suicide, said that she was at risk and needed professional help to prevent it. She compared her problem with somebody who was at risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) due to a family history.
Luke Jackson, director of USC Verdugo’s Stepping Stones program, said, “There’s evidence of (suicidal inclinations) being a disease. With the loss of neurons, the brain is not capable to protect itself. It’s just accepting that suicide is in fact a disease and not a lack of willpower. There’s lot of social-biological parts.”
Stigma of suicide
Stigma has been identified as an important factor in suicide bereavement. According to a September 2016, study published in the journal PLOS One, suicide survivors experience higher levels of stigma as compared to natural death survivors. The study suggests that suicide survivors are more vulnerable to experience feelings of blame, shame and avoidance.
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), suicide contributes to one death every 12.3 minutes in the country. Nearly 43,000 Americans succumb to suicide every year. Moreover, in 2016, nearly 0.5 percent of people (1.3 million) aged 18 or older attempted suicide in the past year, while 1.1 adults (2.8 million) made suicide plans.
Dealing with suicidal behavior
Suicidal behavior — suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts — as well as the associated stigma may lead to reduced self-esteem, psychological distress, poor quality of life and a reduction of social support networks. Therefore, experts emphasize on the need of educating clinicians, grief-counselors and the public about the stigma experienced by suicide survivors and the ways to help them deal with it.
It is important for health care providers and caretakers to identify the early signs of suicidal behavior. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) suggests some major warning signs of suicidal behavior that includes talking about killing oneself or wanting to die; feeling unbearable pain; hopelessness or losing interest in living; feelings of isolation; irregular sleep patterns; increasing substance abuse; and looking for ways to kill oneself.
One should remember the fact that suicide can be prevented with timely action and medical intervention. If anybody you know is displaying suicidal symptoms, encourage him to seek immediate professional help. The 24/7 Mental Health Helpline, a credible outpatient mental health helpline, provides effective information about mental health problems and available treatment options. Chat online or call our outpatient mental health helpline center at 855-653-8178 for more details.