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Understanding risk factors to help prevent suicide

CDC: nearly all U.S. states experienced increase in suicide rate since 1999; Mental health experts: a majority of cases can be prevented
Suicide Getty image
Oregon alone saw a 28 percent increase in suicides between 1999 and 2016. (Getty Images)

Suicide is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States, and, unfortunately, the rates continue to rise. Oregon alone saw a 28 percent increase in suicides between 1999 and 2016.

The ability to identify risk factors and warning signs of suicide, combined with a culture of caring and support, has been shown to reduce rates of suicide. In fact, 60 percent of people who consider or die by suicide have a mental health condition or a substance use disorder. Both can be treated.

Common risk factors or warning signs may include:

  • Visible feelings of hopelessness, loneliness or helplessness

  • Excessive use of substances

  • Discussion of financial strain

  • The recent loss of a relationship, job or loved one

  • A physical illness

  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies, dramatic behavioral changes and an unwillingness to seek help or engage

  • Written or spoken expressions of intent of self-harm

  • Coordinating final arrangements, giving away possessions or conducting farewell meetings with family and friends

  • A local epidemic, or family history of suicide

  • Owning a firearm

“Families, friends or community members that recognize these risks and warning signs, should feel safe in asking the person if they are thinking about suicide (that will not make a person feel more suicidal) and help lower risk further by creating a plan to remove harmful items such as guns or medications,” said Ajit Jetmalani, M.D., Joseph Professor of psychiatry and head of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, OHSU School of Medicine. “The next step is to seek professional help from a suicide prevention resource,  the nearest mental health facility or a hospital emergency department.  So many suicides could be prevented if we connect with and help a person not feel alone during moments of deep anguish.”

Local and national suicide prevention resources include:

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