Winter gloom heightens risks for suicide

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As leaves fall and temperatures plummet, so do the spirits of many across our country. The Walla Walla Valley is no exception.

As the lack of sun and the grayness of winter descend, ongoing pressures of work, financial and relationship stressors can intensify and worsen any underlying mental health issues.

For some, the upcoming holidays are anticipated as a time of joyful gatherings with family and friends. For others the season is overshadowed by dysfunction, loneliness and unhappy memories.

Despite the best efforts of loved ones and professionals, there are times when the pain of staying becomes greater than the pain of going. But for most there is hope, and there is help.

Many suicide loss survivors say, "Looking back, I see there were warning signs but I had no clue at the time." Here is a list of warning signs that are symptomatic of people contemplating suicide:

Observable signs of serious depression:

  • Unrelenting low mood
  • Pessimism
  • Hopelessness
  • Desperation
  • Anxiety, psychic pain and inner tension
  • Withdrawal
  • Sleep problems
  • Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
  • Recent impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks
  • Threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die

Making a plan:

  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Sudden or impulsive purchase of a firearm
  • Obtaining other means of killing oneself such as poisons or medications
  • Unexpected rage or anger

The emotional crises that usually precede suicide are often recognizable and treatable. Although most depressed people are not suicidal, most suicidal people are depressed. Serious depression can be manifested in obvious sadness, but often it is rather expressed as a loss of pleasure or withdrawal from activities that had been enjoyable. One can help prevent suicide through early recognition and treatment of depression and other psychiatric illnesses.

Conditions that pose high risk factors include:

Psychiatric disorders - At least 90 percent of people who kill themselves have 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
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder, or some other anxiety disorder
  • Bulimia or anorexia nervosa eating disorders
  • Personality disorders, especially borderline or antisocial

History of attempted suicide - Between 20 and 50 percent of people who kill themselves have 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

Neurotransmitters - 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.

Impulsivity - Impulsive individuals are more apt to act on suicidal impulses.

Demographics

Sex - Males are three to five times more likely to die by suicide than females.

Age - Elderly Caucasian males have the highest suicide rates.

If you observe these patterns in yourself or someone you know, take them seriously. When in doubt, ASK. When warranted, call 911, the local Crisis Line 509-524-2999, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. More information is available online at www.afsp.org.

If you've lost a loved one to suicide, Surviving Suicide Loss offers local grief and recovery assistance. Meetings are held on the second Tuesday each month from 5:15-6:45 p.m. in the Columbia Room at the Walla Walla Human Services Department, 1520 Kelly Place, Walla Walla.

Janet L. Moore is a registered nurse and co-facilitator of Surviving Suicide Loss.

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