Hi, I’m Dr. Kelly Davis with Grand Peaks Behavioral Health. I work in our St. Anthony location. I’ve been a clinical psychologist for over ten years, and I’ve been with Grand Peaks for just over two.
Today I’m going to talk with you about suicide awareness. First, I’m going to talk about some data and statistics—what’s happening both nationally and in Idaho specifically—and then talk about what we can do if a loved one lets us know they’re struggling, or if you yourself are struggling.
So, starting with numbers—and this is heavy, so kind of a warning before I go into that—this is a heavy topic because these are startlingly high numbers.
- In the US, suicide is one of the top leading causes of death. In 2015, it was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
- In 1975, it was the 12th leading cause of death.
- It has been in the top 10-12th since the 70s. In the US, there’s 1 suicide every 12 minutes.
- Between 2000 and 2015, across this country, the rate of suicide increased almost 30%.
So unfortunately, while we’ve worked really hard to reduce stigma, increase access to care, and help get people connected, we’ve seen suicide rates go up way more than we want—and when we look at some of the statistics around when people do die by suicide, we see that many of those deaths were preventable if we had been able to get those people connected.
- So, for example: nearly 40% of people who died by suicide had an emergency room visit in the year before their death.
- 45% had seen their primary care provider in the month prior to their death.
- Nearly 25% had disclosed their suicidal intent prior to their death.
When we look at the means, just over half of all suicide deaths in our country are by firearms. One of the reasons that’s so important is that we know that’s preventable because we can lock guns up—not necessarily take guns away or remove guns, but put them in a gun safe. There are ways we can make guns less accessible if we know someone is struggling.
A few more numbers:
- It’s not just adolescents or young adults…or the elderly. Sometimes we have these myths about who’s at risk—everyone’s at risk—so we need to be aware of that for ourselves and for the people in our lives.
- When we break it down by age categories, even as young as 10 to 14—and again this is where it gets really heavy—the 3rd leading cause of death is suicide.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young adults—15 to 24 and 25 to 34.
- It drops a little bit as we age. Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death is 35-44 year olds.
- 5th leading cause in 45-54 year olds.
- 8th leading cause in 55-64 year olds.
Suicide is in the top 10 causes of death regardless of age.
Even with our young kids, we know that things can get really hard and heavy, and sometimes it’s hard to wrap our heads around the idea that someone as young as 10 would think about ending their life—but it happens way more often than we realize, so we need to be aware.
Completed Suicide Vs. Attempted Suicide
It’s not just completed suicides that we need to be concerned about. What about those who attempt suicide or are having really serious suicidal thoughts.
One study showed us that for every 1 completed death, there were 9 adults treated in an emergency room for self-harm; 27 who reported having some type of attempt, but not necessarily requiring medical care; and for every 1 completed suicide death, there were over 227 individuals who reported seriously considering suicide.
So, we know that there are far more individuals struggling than just those who end up dying by suicide. This is an extremely important topic and subject for us to pay attention to. Most of us have been touched by suicide at some point in our lives or we know someone who has. It’s scary. It’s hard to talk about. It makes us uncomfortable. But we have to talk about it.
Idaho Suicide Statistics Over Time
When we look at Idaho, it doesn’t look better. Unfortunately, in all of the western US, the statistics look worse than the national averages.
The most recent data we have is from 2018, and that showed us that Idaho had the 5th highest rate of suicides in the country. For at least 10 years, we have been in the top 5.
When we look at that increase from 2000 to 2015-16, Idaho’s rate of suicide actually increased by more than 40%—so we have a lot of work to do.
In 2018, we had 23.9 deaths per 100,000 people. This is the way that we compare state-to-state, by comparing the number of deaths per 100,000, as there is so much population difference between states. The national average is 16.7 per 100,000, so we’re much higher.
The Opioid Crisis & Its Contribution to Death by Suicide
The opioid crisis has been national news—something we’ve heard a lot about—and the number of individuals dying from opioid overdose has increased significantly over the past several years.
It is definitely something we want to continue to pay attention to. When we look at the rates of deaths in Idaho from opium overdose, it’s 14.6 deaths per 100,000—so our suicide rate is still much higher.
While we continue to put a lot of emphasis on treating opiate addictions and helping people, we need to keep in mind the other mental health side of substance abuse.
A Closer Look at Idaho—Size, Demographics, & Access to Healthcare Providers
So what’s going on in Idaho? Why are we the 5th highest?
Idaho is the 14th largest state in the country. We have just over 83,000 square miles and a population of 1.65 million people. What these numbers mean is that we average only 19 people per square mile across the state. Obviously, we have pockets where there are more than that—Boise, Twin Falls, etc—but when we look at the average, most of Idaho is pretty sparse and empty. There are a lot of rural and frontier areas, so there’s a lot of people who have limited access to medical care.
When we look at the demographics, the population tends to be older, have higher poverty and lower income compared to national averages, and we tend to have higher uninsured rates overall.
We look at how many healthcare providers there are nationally and locally, and we get designations called “health provider shortage areas”. The federal government takes these numbers and we look at medical, dental, and mental health.
In Idaho, every single county is designated as a “mental health shortage area” because there are so few mental health providers compared to the population. So, even though we only average 19 people per square mile, we don’t have enough mental health providers for those people.
Suicide & Depression
We think about suicide and the association between suicide and depression. One thing that’s really important to keep in mind—it isn’t just people who we know have depression who think about suicide. We have friends and family who we know struggle with depression and we try to keep an eye on them, but it isn’t just those folks—there are people who we don’t know who haven’t been identified as having a mental health condition.
In fact, one study shows that over half of all suicide deaths were individuals who had no known mental health condition.
Usually there’s a theme for people who attempt or die by suicide, that they report feelings of dread, despair, loneliness, hopelessness, and helplessness—nothing can get better and they don’t know how to fix it, and often the only way they know to make that stop is by ending their life.
Some other identified factors that stand out are usually conflict in relationships—both romantic and Platonic, having impending crises or conflicts, and legal and financial problems. We see these as themes when we look back at completed suicides and what was going on in the individual’s life.
Something that’s really important for people to know is that treatment works and hope can be restored.
What to Do if You or Someone You Know is Struggling?
Suicide prevention isn’t easy. So, what to do if you’re struggling, if someone else is struggling and you know they are—what do you do? Like I said before, it’s scary. The word “suicide” makes us uncomfortable…the thing that shall not be named. It’s like “Voldemort”—we just don’t talk about it. We think: If I say it, if I ask them if they’re suicidal, maybe they’ll start thinking about it when they otherwise wouldn’t have been—and now I’m the one that put that in their head.
That’s not how it works at all.
We need to name it. We need to talk about it. We need to ask those questions. By doing that, we actually show those people that we notice they’re not okay—and we want to know, we want to validate that. Something’s wrong and we want them to tell us what’s wrong.
Talking about it is one of the best, most hopeful things we can do.
We avoid things that make us uncomfortable. It’s a natural tendency, we all do it, but it’s probably the most harmful thing we can do because the message it sends to the person who’s not okay is that we don’t care. It’s not the message we intend, but it’s the message they get.
Ask the questions. It’s okay to not have the answers. You’re not expected to have the answers. Even after being in school for a very long time and doing this for much longer, there are days when I don’t have any answers, and I just sit with people in my office. We sit and I listen, and I let them tell me about their struggles and their pain—and sometimes it’s enough to just have someone be present with them while they hurt, out loud.
These things make other people uncomfortable so we don’t get to do it very often. Let people talk about it and don’t dismiss it, don’t brush it way because it makes you uncomfortable—talk about it, say the word, ask if they’re having thoughts about suicide. Don’t say, “Are you okay? Are you sad?” Say, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Are you thinking about suicide?”
Be very direct. Don’t avoid it. Don’t ignore changes. If you see changes in behavior in someone you know well, address it. Ask them what’s going on.
If you are concerned but you’re unsure, don’t dismiss it as “just a bad day”. If you feel something is wrong, you ask. You go to them and say “Something’s wrong and we need to talk about it.”
And you push. It might bother them. It might irritate them. But it might keep them alive.
If it’s not at the point of an immediate crisis, reach out to agencies such as ours, other behavioral health providers in the community, your insurance company if you have coverage—you can contact them and they can tell you who’s in the network.
If it’s a more immediate emergency, go to the emergency room. They have staff on site who can meet with you immediately, do an evaluation, talk with you, talk about safety, help you get connected with resources in the community.
If you have someone in your life who you know is not okay and they have expressed suicidal thoughts, or even vague statements like “I just can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep living this way,” and you have a fear that they’re going to try and end their life, but they won’t come to the hospital with you, or they stop answering your messages or phone calls—call 911. The police will do a welfare check. They will go and see if that person’s okay, and they can escort them to the hospital.
Sometimes people will get really upset and mad that you did that, but if they’re mad at you it means they’re alive to be mad at you—and that’s such a better outcome.
Don’t be afraid to call 911 if you think someone is going to harm themselves. It’s so much better than the alternative.
A few other resources:
The 24 hour Idaho suicide prevention hotline, 800-273-8255.
You can find that anywhere you have a Google search bar. There are going to be different numbers depending on where you search. Each state has a crisis line. If the state doesn’t have the ability to man it at a particular time, it automatically rolls over to the national suicide prevention lifeline.
There’s also the ability to text. Sometimes talking is hard. Really hard. If you’re struggling or you know someone else is, they can text the word “Talk” to 741741, and they can text back and forth with a crisis counselor. These are individuals who are professionally trained to help you get through the crisis.
A couple of websites:
There is a lot of fantastic information on both of these websites about mental illness, how to get connected to resources, how to help a loved one, how to reach support groups in your community, and support groups for survivors of suicide.
Of course, for resources and information, you can call offices like ours or visit our website and we’d be happy to connect you with whatever we have available, or whatever is available in the community.
Thank you for watching and listening to our message today.
Contact us at https://grandpeaks.org/contact-us/
Or, call us at 208-356-4900.
Let’s change the direction of these numbers and help keep those we love safe.