Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to launch Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.
In the third video in the series, Dr. Christine Moutier of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention suggests several of the ways society can combat the rising suicide trend. Did you know white, middle-aged men are most at risk? What would it be like if mentally ill people got the treatment they needed before taking their lives? How would things be different if our opinions on suicidal tendencies changed overnight?
Christine Moutier: Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in our country and actually in the world, and yet it's largely preventable. It has been trending up in terms of our national rate of suicide over the last decade or so. It had trended down prior to that. So we're at a place now where we really want to make a difference; we want to use the methods that we know can work to lower the suicide rate and allow those who are struggling to get the help that they need.
Mental health problems play a significant role for suicide risk. In fact if you had to pick out one of the many risk factors that tend to come together to create suicide, mental health problems could be called actually a necessary, but not sufficient factor in place. In greater than 90 percent of cases of suicide, as shown in the research, there is a diagnosable mental health condition at play, whether or not it was diagnosed or treated. Now, many other factors then lay on top of that to rise up to create an imminent risk for that sense of desperation, hopelessness, but then also the thought and the planning and the ability to act on those suicidal impulses.
It is really important to note that white males in their middle age account for about 70 percent of the death toll from suicide each year. And in fact over the last decade, the rate of suicide for that part of our population went up the most, it went up almost 30 percent. You can think about things like they are just as prone to mental health problems as any other segment of society, and yet they might be some of the folks in our society who are the least willing or able to seek help because of the social norms and frankly because men don't seek medical care as frequently as women do in general, let alone when it comes to mental health factors.
One other factor that's really important to understand is that for the baby boomer generation, that group as a cohort starting many decades ago actually had already shown an increased risk for mental health problems and suicide, addictions, and other psychosocial problems. Ten years ago, within the suicide-prevention world, which is a pretty specialized world, there were very limited activities going on, on a grassroots level. There were some and it was largely families who had lost a loved one to suicide. In our organization, for example, we went from a few people banning together to over 150,000 people walking, speaking out about their experience of even lived experience of having lived through suicidal thinking or attempts. That level of awareness raising and sort of shedding of the stigma is one of the signs of just the changing times and the readiness and the desire to make an impact on suicide.