By Dr. Mercola
A recent report on causes of death shows that suicide has now overtaken traffic accidents as the leading cause of injury-related death in the US. One reason for that is because car accident occurrences are down. But even so, the rate of suicide rose by an unhealthy 15 percent between 2000 and 2009, and poisoning (the number one cause of which is prescription drugs) rose by a whopping 128 percent.
Fatal prescription drug overdoses surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in 2007, according to the Department of Health. Many of the overdoses (36 percent) involve prescription opioid painkillers, which were actually the cause of more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.
Some authorities believe many of these drug poisonings may actually be intentional suicides, even though they may have been classified as accidental. According to the study's author:
"Suicides are terribly undercounted; I think the problem is much worse than official data would lead us to believe. There may be 20 percent or more unrecognized suicides."
If his estimation is correct, we may be looking at upwards of a 35 percent rise in suicide between the years of 2000-2009... It's estimated that a person commits suicide every 15 minutes in the United States.
For each of these suicide deaths, an estimated 8-25 people made suicide attempts.1 Taken together, the latest preliminary 2010 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists intentional self-harm, or suicide, as the 10th leading cause of all death in the United States.
Whatever means they use to commit suicide, the rapid increase of people reaching that level of desperation leave us wondering: Why?
Is a Crumbling Economy to Blame?
There's clearly evidence suggesting that economic recessions and financial hardships can be a significant contributing factor.2 According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates tend to rise and fall along with recessions and economic booms. For example, during the 1932 Great Depression, as many as 22 people per 100,000 committed suicide. The current economic collapse has also led to a well-documented rash of suicides across Europe.
According to the New York Times:3
"Especially in the most fragile nations like Greece, Ireland and Italy, small-business owners and entrepreneurs are increasingly taking their own lives in a phenomenon some European newspapers have started calling 'suicide by economic crisis.'
...In Greece, the suicide rate among men increased more than 24 percent from 2007 to 2009, government statistics show. In Ireland during the same period, suicides among men rose more than 16 percent. In Italy, suicides motivated by economic difficulties have increased 52 percent, to 187 in 2010 – the most recent year for which statistics were available – from 123 in 2005.
...In Ireland, the phenomenon has been linked to what some therapists call Celtic Tiger depression, the period after 2008 characterized by an influx of middle-aged male patients who complained about sleeplessness and a lack of appetite in the aftermath of that nation's destructive boom-and-bust real estate market."
Other Contributing Factors to Rising Suicide Rates
As one person is quoted as saying in the New York Times, people don't kill themselves because they have debts, rather it's a combination of factors that lead to desperation. If you have a family history of suicide, have been exposed to suicidal behavior (such as from other family members or friends) or have suffered/witnessed physical or sexual abuse or domestic violence, your risk of suicidal behavior increases.
However, the primary risk factor for suicide is depression in combination with substance abuse, and this could include alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription drugs. It's estimated that more than 90 percent of those who end up taking their own lives fit into this category.4
Another important factor that cannot be overlooked is poor health, which can stretch already strained finances, family and living conditions to the very limit. And then there's the factor of taking too many different drugs simultaneously. While this certainly increases your risk of accidental overdose, polypharmacy in and of itself can have a devastating effect on both physical and mental health, including increased risk of depression, physical accidents like falls, and/or self-harm, along with symptoms that may otherwise exacerbate depression.
Common signs and symptoms that may be indicative of a detrimental interaction between two or more drugs include:
Tiredness, sleepiness or decreased alertness Confusion (chronic or intermittent) Weakness Anxiety or excitability Constipation, diarrhea or incontinence Dizziness and/or falls Tremors Skin rashes Loss of appetite Depression or lack of interest in your usual activities Hallucinations - seeing or hearing things Decreased or altered sexual behavior
Antidepressants May Be Fueling the Problem
Sadly, the knee-jerk conventional treatment for depression and suicidal tendencies is almost exclusively prescription antidepressants. Every year, more than 253 million prescriptions for antidepressants are filled in the United States, making them the second most prescribed drug class in the United States (second only to cholesterol-lowering drugs).5 But how effective are antidepressants in alleviating the symptoms of depression?
Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that antidepressants are no more effective than a placebo, and in some case less effective. A study published in the January 2010 issue of JAMA concluded there is little evidence that SSRIs (a popular group of antidepressants that includes Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft) have any benefit to people with mild to moderate depression.6
The researchers stated:
"The magnitude of benefit of antidepressant medication compared with placebo... may be minimal or nonexistent, on average, in patients with mild or moderate symptoms."
SSRIs were found to be 33 percent effective, just like a sugar pill – but with far more adverse effects, including violence and suicidal thoughts and actions. Exercise actually outperforms antidepressants, but many still overlook this option.
Total Video Length: 00:54:26
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There is much evidence that antidepressants intensify violent thoughts and behaviors, both suicidal and homicidal, especially among children. And, since the late 1980s, there have been frequent reports of increased violent behavior, including homicides and suicides, among individuals taking antidepressant drugs.
Add to this a faltering economy and many literally feeling like they're "fighting for their livelihoods" and the safety of their family, and the use of antidepressants may very well be pushing people over the edge rather than keeping them from it... It all depends on how you react to them.
Red Flags: Is Someone You Know Teetering on the Edge?
If someone close to you has recently endured a hardship, or you have noticed a change in their behavior, how can you tell when ordinary stress or sadness has progressed to a potentially suicidal level? Besides straightforward or "sideways" comments about not wanting to live any longer, some of the red flags that a person has a high risk for self-harm include:
Acquiring a weapon Hoarding medication No plan for the future Putting affairs in order Making or changing a will Giving away personal belongings Mending grievances Checking on insurance policies Withdrawing from people
If you think someone is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Most suicide attempts are expressions of extreme distress, not harmless bids for attention. A person who appears suicidal needs immediate professional help. Help the person to seek immediate assistance from their doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room, or call 911. Eliminate access to firearms or other potential suicide aids, including unsupervised access to medications.
Are You, or Someone You Know Currently Struggling With Depression or Feeling Suicidal?
If you are feeling desperate or have any thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a toll-free number 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or call 911, or simply go to your nearest Hospital Emergency Department.
I know firsthand that depression and suicide is devastating. It takes a toll on the healthiest of families and can destroy lifelong friendships. Few things are harder in life than losing someone you love, especially to suicide.
It's impossible to impart the will to live to somebody who no longer possesses it. No amount of logic, reasoning, or reminders about all they have to live for will put a smile back on the face of a loved one who is seriously contemplating suicide.
If you are currently the one struggling in a dark place, realize that oftentimes you cannot change your circumstances. You can, however, change your response to them. I encourage you to be balanced in your life. Don't ignore your body's warning signs that something needs to change. Sometimes people are so busy taking care of everybody else that they lose sight of taking care of themselves. Know that it's okay to take care of yourself. Putting yourself last is a serious mistake, as you need to find ways to "refill" and replenish your own energy stores or else you'll eventually burn out.
There really are no easy answers – especially when the troubles are related to crumbling finances, joblessness, or tumultuous family and living situations. So many seem to be suffering these days; emotional and mental pain really is epidemic. Knowing that others are suffering as well can be helpful to a degree, but overall, it may only add to the sum total of ones misery and adding to the feeling that there's no hope... One of the most effective ways of being supportive is perhaps to simply allow yourself to reach out and try to truly connect with the person who is suffering – even if it's a virtual stranger. Sometimes, having someone look you in the eye and asking you how you are, really meaning it, can be the lifeline needed in that moment...
Long-Term Strategies for Improving Your Mental Health
You can't make long-term plans for lifestyle changes when you are in a crisis, so clearly, the following recommendations are not meant to get you out of an acute situation. Rather, I invite you to take these lifestyle recommendations to heart as a preventive measure, before depression and other troubles set in.
Optimizing your health may actually be one of the most important things you can do to help you make it safely through financially hard times, as faltering health in combination with poverty can lead even the most level-headed people to the limit of what they can endure. My top tips to support positive mental health are as follows:
- Energy psychology is one of the most powerful tools for resolving emotional issues – specifically a technique called EFT. For serious problems like depression you do NOT want to perform EFT on yourself, you need to seek guidance from a skilled professional, ideally someone who is also trained in conventional methods. The effectiveness of any energy psychology technique will be significantly improved if you combine it with the tips that follow.
- Dramatically decrease your consumption of sugar (particularly fructose), grains, and processed foods. (In addition to being high in sugar and grains, processed foods also contain a variety of additives that can affect your brain function and mental state, especially artificial sweeteners.)
- Adequate vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to depression and affects one in four people.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels, ideally through regular sun exposure. Vitamin D is very important for your mood. One study found that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels.
The best way to get vitamin D is through exposure to SUNSHINE, not swallowing a capsule. Remember, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of depression that we know is related to sunshine deficiency, so it would make sense that the perfect way to optimize your vitamin D is through sun exposure, or a safe tanning bed if you don't have regular access to the sun.
- Get plenty of high quality animal-based omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are crucial for optimal brain function and mental health, and most people don't get enough from diet alone. So make sure you take a high-quality omega-3 fat, such as krill oil.
- Evaluate your salt intake. Sodium deficiency actually creates symptoms that are very much like those of depression. Make sure you do NOT use processed salt (regular table salt) however. You'll want to use an all natural, unprocessed salt like Himalayan salt, which contains more than 80 different micronutrients.
- Adequate daily exercise. Exercise is one of the best-kept secrets to preventing and treating depression.
- Make sure your cholesterol levels aren't too low for optimal mental health. I have been educating the public about the underreported, adverse effects associated with lowering cholesterol through drugs like statins for many years, but what many still do not know is that low cholesterol is linked to dramatically increased rates of suicide and parasuicide, as well as aggression towards others.
This increased expression of violence towards self and others may be due to the fact that low membrane cholesterol decreases the number of serotonin receptors in the brain (which is approximately 30% cholesterol by weight). Lower serum cholesterol concentrations therefore may contribute to decreasing brain serotonin, which not only contributes to suicidal-associated depression, but prevents the suppression of aggressive behavior and violence towards self and others.7