More than 32,000 people in the United States die by suicide every year. It is this country's 11th leading cause of death, and is often characterized as a response to a single event or set of circumstances. However, unlike these popular conceptions, suicide is a much more involved phenomenon. The factors that contribute to any particular suicide are diverse and complex, so efforts to understand it must incorporate a variety of approaches.
Suicide is a serious, but preventable public health problem. Austin Travis County Integral Care, as the local authority for behavioral health and developmental disabilities, has taken the lead on initiatives to help educate our community in hopes of collaboratively preventing suicides from occurring.
If you or someone you are concerned about has expressed thoughts of suicide, please call the 24/7 Psychiatric Crisis Hotline at 512-472-HELP (4357).
Suicide Prevention Initiative
In May 2010, the Austin City Council approved a groundbreaking initiative to monitor deaths by suicide in order to plan and implement timely and effective suicide prevention efforts. The project involves a data sharing agreement between Austin’s Health and Human Services Department (HHSD) and Integral Care. This is the first initiative of its kind in the state, coming after the enactment of House Bill 1067 from the 2009 Texas legislative session, which authorizes the local vital statistics registrar and designated entities to share information about deaths by suicide.
As part of the initiative, Integral Care is the recipient of the information from HHSD, which then partners with a number of local community organizations to identify and respond to suicide trends and suicide clusters – a group of suicides occurring closely together in time – through this information exchange.
Quarterly data sharing of local deaths by suicide began July 15, 2010 and is analyzed using geo-mapping software to help identify high-risk groups and possible suicide clusters. All suicide data is confidential and closely monitored between the two agencies that track the data for research. Click here to read more in the fall 2010 issue of Focus.
Integral Care offers community-wide suicide prevention training and services through:
- Mental Health First Aid certification program
- Lethality-assessment workshops
- School-based prevention efforts
- Integral Care's Mobile Crisis Outreach Team
Understanding the risk factors for suicide often helps in assisting those in our community who may be suicidal. These risk factors include:
- Psychiatric Disorders
At least 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric illnesses -- such as major depression, bipolar depression, or some other depressive illness, including:
Schizophrenia, Alcohol or drug abuse, particularly when combined with depression, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, some other anxiety disorder, Bulimia or anorexia nervousa, Personality disorders (especially borderline or antisocial)
- Past History of Attempted Suicide
Between 20 and 50 percent of people who kill themselves had previously attempted suicide. Those who have made serious suicide attempts are at a much higher risk for actually taking their lives.
- Genetic Predisposition
Family history of suicide, suicide attempts, depression or other psychiatric illness.
A clear relationship has been demonstrated between low concentrations of the serotonin metabolite 5-hydroxyindoleactic acid (5-HIAA) in cerebrospinal fluid and an increased incidence of attempted and completed suicide in psychiatric patients.
Impulsive individuals are more apt to act on suicidal impulses.
Sex: Males are three to five times more likely to die by suicide than females.
Age: Elderly Caucasian males have the highest suicide rates.
Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention