If you’ve stumbled upon this post, it’s part 2 of a 4-part mini-series on suicide, dedicated to a dear man, Simon “Sketch” Ellis, who spent over 20 years travelling the world, making friends as he went. Sketch ended his own life earlier this year and those of us left are wondering what drew him toward that decision. This post explores some of the facts about suicide, and draws attention to the risk factors that are most typically in play for someone who opts for death at their own hand. The final 2 posts offer suggestions for how to help a friend in need, (what to say, what not to say, how to think about your friend so you feel empowered to take action), and finally how to survive life after death, if you’ve lost a loved one to suicide.
First of all, if you are in crisis now, or if you know of someone who is, take action. It is the rare soul who is 100% committed to death (see April 2nd post). Intervention can help.
In Crisis Now?
In New Zealand call 0800 611 116 National Healthline
In United States call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
These lines are free, open all the time and available to anyone in need.
A few facts
- In New Zealand in 2010 ,
- of a total population of 4,367,700
- 522 people killed themselves
- Thus in 2010, the average suicides per 100,000 people = 11.9
- In the United States in 2010
- of a total population of 308,745,538.
- 38,000 killed themselves
- Thus in 2010, the average suicides per 100,000 people = 12.3
Read by friends at Sketch’s Memorial
He was humble, kind, generous, and considerate. His positive energy permeated into the souls of us all. He followed his dreams. He led the most colorful life filled with challenges that he embraced with open arms. He travelled the world; saw places, experienced different cultures that would make the likes of David Palin and Richard Attenborough jealous! Unlike the great explorers, we read about in our history books, he did not come to take he came to give. His ability to communicate with every walk of life, the nomads in Mongolia, the one-eyed guard in DR Congo, the Pakistani patient in the hospital in Qatar, the Cambodian rice farmer to name a few, made him welcome everywhere. He radiated trust and kindness. He was never afraid of hard work. He was happiest getting his hands dirty to help others. He was the most giving person I have ever met.
Drilling into the data a bit more we learn that ~
- Suicide is around the 10th leading cause of death
- In most countries, women continue to attempt suicide more often than men
- Men however, tend to be 4 times more successful
- Firearms are the most common method of suicide in the USA for men
- Suffocation (including hanging) and poisoning are the next most common methods
- There is 1 suicide for every 25 attempts
- The poor, minorities and disenfranchised kill themselves more often
In autopsies of those who commit suicide, US data discovered:
- 33.3% tested positive for alcohol
- 23% for antidepressants
- 20.8% for opiates, including heroin and prescription painkillers
Not only did you travel to all those many countries, cities, towns and villages… You helped make things better along the way, fighting against poachers, helping reintroduce rehabbed rhinos back into the wild, working with children just to name a few…. You always gave so much of yourself and asked for so little in return.
Suzanne Stafford, USA
What are the risk factors for suicide?
More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors ~
- depression and other mental disorders, or a substance-abuse disorder (9 in 10 report this)
- prior suicide attempt
- family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
- family history of suicide
- family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
- firearms in the home (used in more than half of suicides)
- exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family members, peers, or media figures.
And maybe this explains what happened to someone as vivid and vital as Sketch –
- three out of four individuals who take their own life had a physical illness when they committed suicide.
Well Nomad, you wandered this earth living life to the full and I was lucky enough that our paths crossed in Hong Kong in 96 and we traveled on in 97 to Cambodia, laughing a lot and having an adventure. It was good to catch up with you again in Cambodia just over a year ago, just didn’t expect that your travel’s would end on this earth. I expect you’re up there with your pack on your back moving from star to star ‘cause that’s what you were like. It was a pleasure to have known you…happy travels on the other side.
There’s so much yet to understand as our attitudes toward death-by-choice (including euthanasia) are pushed by the data. However, it’s important to remember that suicide is NOT a normal response to stress! Whilst the number of people suffering from depression, other mental illnesses and addictions is on the rise, “new research is showing that the risk for suicide is associated with changes in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Decreased levels of serotonin have been found in people with depression, impulsive disorders, and a history of suicide attempts, and in the brains of suicide victims“.
- What to do if a friend is suicidal?
- Life after death (by suicide)