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US suicide rates up

Recognizing suicide warning signs and risk factors

Editor’s note: This article was originally posted to Healthy Headlines in September 2015 and has been updated with new information.

Suicide is a growing problem in the United States. On average, there are 117 suicides a day in America and more than 42,000 deaths by suicide per year.

That trend appears to be getting worse, according to new data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 1999 and 2014, the suicide rate rose by 24 percent overall.That translates to more than 10 out of every 100,000 people who took their own life in 1999, and by 2014, the number grew to 13 per 100,000 people.

The increases in suicide were seen across the board for both men and women in all age groups younger than 75 years old.

Among men, the largest increase was seen in males aged 45 to 64 with an increase of 43 percent. The largest rise in women’s suicides was with girls between the ages of 10 to 14 with an increase of 200 percent during 15 years.

Suicide warning signs

Sonja Flood, a licensed clinical social worker and supervisor of behavioral health at Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center, in Manassas, Virginia, outlined some common warning signs of suicide.

“Some major things to look for are feelings of hopelessness, loss of joy, loneliness, isolation, anger or rage,” Flood said. “Other things to keep in mind are if a person has experienced recent loss or traumatic events that may make them psychologically vulnerable.”

Flood also noted that some individuals struggling with depression will try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. An increase in that behavior could be considered a warning sign.

“Oftentimes, individuals will express that they don’t know how to communicate with others or that other people don’t understand what they are going through,” Flood said. “They may say there’s no purpose in their life or there is no reason to live.”

Flood said sometimes if a person has been talking about suicide, others may not take them seriously, mistakenly believing that if they are talking about suicide they aren’t going to act on those thoughts.

“If they’re talking about it, they’ve been able to identify that something is wrong,” Flood said. “They’re reaching out for help. They may not necessarily go through with it, but they know they aren’t feeling well, they’re not feeling themselves and they’re looking for someone or something to help them feel better.”

Risk factors

Flood described several risk factors that could increase a person’s chances of considering suicide. Those risk factors include:

  • A family history of suicide.
  • A diagnosis of a mental health issue, especially depression and anxiety.
  • A chronic medical condition in combination with depression or anxiety.
  • Active use of alcohol or other substances.
  • A previous suicide attempt.
  • Access to lethal means.
  • A significant perceived loss.
  • Male, over 55 and divorced.


Flood said seeking out professional help is always better than seeking help on the Internet. Professionals are trained and able to link you directly to resources.

“Sometimes people don’t know where to start,” Flood said. “The Internet is good for finding resources, but it should not be used to self-diagnose.”

Novant Health has experienced clinicians on-call 24/7 for anyone to call and seek help. To use the 24-hour access program, call toll-free in the following areas:

  • Northern Virginia: 703-369-8864
  • Winston-Salem, North Carolina: 1-800-718-3550
  • Charlotte, North Carolina: 1-800-786-1585

Novant Health also has an online depression risk assessment.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), is also available 24/7.

How to help someone in need

“If you are seeing symptoms of depression, reach out to that person and try to make a connection,” Flood said. “Talk openly and share why you are concerned. Most importantly, try to be nonjudgmental and do not argue with them about why they are feeling depressed.”

Flood also said if you think someone you know is suicidal, help them seek assistance.

“They could be feeling overwhelmed and may not know where to start,” Flood said. “You could help them take the first step in reaching out to someone. Call the hotline or accompany them to the nearest hospital emergency room.”

Flood emphasized that teenagers often will reach out to their peers or on social media if they have depressed or suicidal thoughts. “Don’t keep that a secret,” Flood said. “Reach out to an adult so your friend can get help.”

Published: 4/22/2016