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Start the Conversation: Suicide Awareness & Mental Health

7 min.

The act of suicide prevention starts with normalizing honest conversations about mental health and suicide and understanding the factors that contribute to suicide risk.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

April 7, 2022


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WARNING: this post contains in-depth language and information about suicide. If you are in acute crisis and looking for help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or dial 911

It can be frightening to hear someone talk about suicidal thoughts—and it can be even more frightening to find yourself thinking about dying. When we fail to take suicidal thoughts seriously, it can have devastating outcomes, as suicide is a permanent solution to (often) temporary problems.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide rates have increased exponentially over the last two decades. Rates have increased significantly in young women aged 10-24 who are at a higher rate compared to men (487.9 per 100,000) which is twice the rate of ED visits among boys. Sometimes, comments or thoughts of suicide, also known as suicidal ideation, can start small, like “I wish I could sleep forever.” If left unchecked, suicidal ideation can become significantly more dangerous.

Suicide is preventable, and we all have a role to play in suicide prevention. Suicide prevention awareness starts with normalizing honest conversations about mental health and suicide and understanding the factors that contribute to suicide risk.

Mental health & suicide

Suicide is more than a mental health concern—it’s a serious public health issue. Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death for people aged 15–24. People of any stage of life, race, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation can experience suicide risk, but some groups have higher rates of suicide than the general population.

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Suicide is sometimes linked to other co-occurring mental health conditions, but suicide is rarely caused by any single factor. In fact, research shows that only 46 percent of people who die by suicide have a known mental health condition. Several other risk factors can increase an individual’s risk of suicide, including:

  • A family history of suicide. Individuals who have a parent, sibling, or immediate family member die by suicide are more likely to attempt suicide compared to those without a family history of suicide. Immediate family members not only share genes but also share diet, living conditions, social values, and behavioral issues that can combine to increase suicide risk.
  • Previous suicide attempts. A history of suicidal behavior is one of the strongest risk factors for future suicide attempts and death. Those who attempt suicide are 30–40 times more likely to die by suicide than someone without a history of suicide attempts.
  • Substance abuse. Substance abuse can lower your inhibitions, leading to impulsive behaviors. Substance use and alcohol consumption can increase an individual’s risk for self-harm and suicide, according to the CDC.
  • Access to lethal means. Studies show that reducing an individual’s access to lethal means, such as firearms and medications, is one of the most effective ways to reduce suicide risk.
  • Chronic or serious medical illness. According to a 2017 study, major physical health conditions are associated with a higher risk of suicide, including chronic pain, brain injury, cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, and diabetes.
  • Gender. Suicide statistics reveal that women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more likely to die by suicide. Compared to men, women report higher rates of suicidal thoughts, non-fatal suicidal behavior, and suicide attempts.
  • A history of trauma or abuse. Individuals who experienced a traumatic event, such as childhood trauma, emotional neglect, or sexual abuse, face a higher risk of suicide, according to a study conducted on patients with major depression.
  • High stress levels. For some people, stressful events can trigger suicidal ideation. Stressors such as relationship issues, physical health, financial issues, unemployment, and homelessness can all contribute to suicide risk.

Although poor mental health can increase an individual’s suicide risk, it’s clear that mental health conditions alone do not cause suicide. Remember: Risk factors of suicide are not the same thing as warning signs of suicide. Warning signs indicate an immediate risk of suicidal crisis, while risk factors indicate a heightened risk.

Suicide can affect anyone, and all levels of society—from government organizations to healthcare facilities—must work together in building a national strategy to raise suicide awareness and prevent suicide.

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Protective factors of suicide risk

Just as risk factors can increase an individual’s risk, protective factors make it less likely that individuals will consider, attempt, or die by suicide. Protective factors exist at varying levels, from the individual level (e.g., biological factors, mental wellness) to the family level (e.g., intergenerational trauma) and even at the community level (e.g., access to mental health services).

Suicide is highly preventable, and we can protect people from suicide by identifying and understanding the factors that protect people from suicidal crises. According to the CDC, these factors include:

  • Problem-solving, conflict resolution, and healthy communication skills
  • Effective health care for mental health conditions, physical conditions, and substance use disorders
  • Easy access to clinical interventions, such as addiction recovery services, crisis centers, and suicide prevention programs
  • Family and community support and connectedness
  • Ongoing support from health care providers, therapists, counselors, and clinicians
  • Cultural beliefs that support instincts for self-preservation, including seeking professional mental health care

How to improve your mental health

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When you prioritize your wellness, you give your mind and body the tools they need to cope with stressful situations. In other words, resiliency helps improve a person’s mental health, protecting against mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Resilience also helps offset factors that contribute to poor mental health, such as bullying and experiencing trauma, which can help people live fulfilling and productive lives.

No matter where you are in your mental health journey, here are some tips to make a positive change in your mental wellness and build resilience.

  • Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. Set aside some time to exercise each day, even if it’s just for a short walk. Even though physical activity might seem exhausting, regular exercise has real benefits for mental wellness, helping to boost your energy levels, reduce stress, and release mood-boosting endorphins. To make exercise more fun, try experimenting with different types, like pilates or strength training, to see what you like best.
  • Nourish your body with a balanced diet. Practice paying attention to your body’s hunger cues, eating mindfully, and incorporating nutrient-dense foods into your diet.
  • Take a break from social media. Social media can make us feel pressured to be, say, and do certain things. Sometimes, social media can be a positive influence, creating a safe online space for individuals to share their mental health stories, promote suicide prevention, and find support. But if you’re constantly striving for a picture-perfect life, it might be worth taking a break from social media for a little while.
  • Prioritize good sleep hygiene. Sleep can play an important role in emotional health, and poor sleeping habits are a key contributor to common mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Not getting enough sleep can disrupt your mental wellness, and sleep disturbances can worsen suicidal thoughts. Carve out some time before bed to relax, put your phone away, and prepare your mind for the day ahead. Waking up and going to sleep at a regular time can help your body adjust to a new sleep schedule and get a good night’s sleep.
  • Practice self-compassion. Self-care, positive affirmations, and mindfulness practices can help you look inward, replenish your mind, and show yourself self-love. The next time you’re in a cycle of worrying or caught in a low mood, slow down and check in with your mind and body. It can be as complicated or simple as you want to make it—whether that’s drinking a cup of coffee in the sunlight or taking a warm bath.
  • Build a strong support network. The benefits of a strong support network are both wide-ranging and long-lasting. Spending time with other people can boost your self-esteem, improve your mindset, and reduce stress. Try making a list of the positive connections in your life and scheduling a phone call or video chat with those people. If you’re going through a tough time, confiding in a close friend or family member can help you find emotional support.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Lifestyle changes are a great tool to improve your mental wellness, but some people need extra support—and that’s completely normal. Mental health professionals are trained to help people understand their feelings and build their resiliency. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, can help individuals with suicidal thoughts recognize problematic patterns of thinking and behavior, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). It’s important to remember that suicidal thoughts are a mental health symptom and that they can be treated and reduced over time.

Contact us

Living with mental health challenges can feel incredibly exhausting, but it doesn’t have to. Whether you’re navigating life after a traumatic event, experiencing anxiety disorder symptoms, or living with another mental health issue, professional mental health care makes your life so much brighter.

At Charlie Health, we deliver high-quality, comprehensive mental health treatment for adolescents, young adults, and families experiencing mental health crises. Our virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) combines individual psychotherapy, groups, and family therapy to provide confidential support beyond once-a-week therapy.

Our supportive, experienced mental health professionals will be with you every step of the way with comprehensive treatment from the comfort of your own home. No matter where you are in your mental health journey, our therapists are here to answer your questions, explore your treatment options, and work with you toward sustainable healing. Get started today.

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