Lift the Taboo: Talking About Suicide
Behavioral Health Insights
By Micah Hoffman, MD, DABPN, FAPA,
AllMed Behavioral Health Medical Director
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a chance to spotlight a growing public health crisis in the United States. Suicide is the country’s 12th leading cause of death, claiming over 45,000 lives in 2020, out of more than 1.2 million suicide attempts.1 Despite the staggering numbers, suicide prevention does not always receive the attention it deserves, in part because suicide, like many mental health issues, is often stigmatized. National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is one approach to shifting public perception, raising awareness, and making the subject less taboo.
Suicide affects us all, touching every demographic in the U.S. According to a sampling of statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Health, 79 percent of all suicide deaths are male; suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10 to 14-year-olds; suicide rates are highest among American Indian/Alaska Natives, followed by non-Hispanic whites; and suicide is the leading cause of death among people held in local jails.2
Beyond the death of an individual, each suicide carries repercussions for loved ones and for U.S. society as a whole. In discussing suicide’s far-reaching impact, the Centers for Disease Control note that survivors left behind following a completed suicide may experience shock, anger, guilt, symptoms of depression or anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts themselves.3 Suicide also exacts a heavy financial toll on the U.S. economy. In 2019, suicide and nonfatal self-harm cost the nation nearly $490 billion in medical costs, work loss costs, value of statistical life, and quality of life costs.4
Recently, there has been meaningful progress in addressing these issues. In July of this year, the new national hotline for mental health crisis services, including suicidality, went live. The number to call or text when in crisis is 988. This new resource is proving to be a great asset to emergency mental health services, and we at AllMed encourage you to promote 988 to your members.
What You Can Do
The most important fact to know about suicide is that it is preventable. Key steps that we can take, as a society and as individuals, include strengthening economic supports, increasing access to and delivery of suicide care, creating protective environments and connectedness, teaching coping skills, and identifying and supporting those at risk. As National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month focuses our attention on this societal crisis, we reflect on those we have lost and commit to doing all that we can to prevent future deaths by suicide.
Going forward, support those at risk, advocate, promote the 988 hot line, and above all, take good care of yourself.
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/. Accessed September 2, 2022.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. Suicide Prevention Awareness Month (SPAM). https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Suicide-Prevention-Awareness-Month-(SPAM). Accessed September 2, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts About Suicide. https://www.cdc.gov/suicide/facts/index.html. Accessed September 2, 2022.
- Peterson C, Miller GF, Barnett SB, Florence C. Economic Cost of Injury — United States, 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2021;70:1655–1659. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7048a1.