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Williams’ suicide sparks national dialogue on depression

8/15/2014, 5:40 a.m.
The Aug. 11 death of comedian and Academy Award-winning actor Robin Williams brought into sharp focus this week the issues ...
Robin Williams, 63, who won an Oscar for his supporting role in “Good Will Hunting,” had a long history of depression and addiction.

The Aug. 11 death of comedian and Academy Award-winning actor Robin Williams brought into sharp focus this week the issues of depression and suicide.

Williams, 63, who won an Oscar as best supporting actor for “Good Will Hunting” in 1997, was found dead on Monday at his Northern California home. He had a long history of depression and addiction and investigators said he committed suicide by asphyxia.

In 2010, the last year that statistics are available, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

That year, more than 39,000 people killed themselves and nearly 1 million Americans attempted to take their lives.

Men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide. They account for 79 percent of the suicides in this country. But nationally, three times more women report attempting suicide than men.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says 20 percent to 50 percent of people who commit suicide have made a previous attempt.

The CDC recently identified depression as a serious and growing problem, while the U.S. military has sounded an alarm at the increasing incidents of depression and suicide by both active-duty and veteran personnel.

Depression carries a very high risk of suicide, health professionals say.

More than 90 percent of people who commit suicide suffer with clinical depression or another diagnosable mental health disorder. Many suicide victims have a substance abuse problem, often in combination with other mental disorders.

Adverse or traumatic life events in combination with risk factors such as clinical depression and/or addiction can lead to suicide.

Any threat of suicide must be taken seriously.

The 2010 DeKalb Status of Health Report identified suicide as the third-leading injury-related cause of death between 2002 and 2006.

  • During that time period in DeKalb:
  • Sixteen percent of injury-related deaths were the result of suicide.
  • The rate of suicide for males was nearly five times the rate for females.
  • Whites were two times more likely than blacks, and four times more likely than Asians, to commit suicide.
  • Seventeen teens died by suicide.
  • Poisoning was not a method for any of the completed acts of suicide.
  • Based on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, DeKalb high school students are increasingly thinking about and attempting suicide.
  • Health professionals stress that suicide and suicidal behavior are never normal responses to stress. Other risk factors for suicide include:
  • One or more prior suicide attempts.
  • Family history of mental disorders or substance abuse.
  • Family history of suicide.
  • Family violence.
  • Physical or sexual abuse.
  • Keeping firearms in the home.
  • Chronic physical illness, including chronic pain.
  • Incarceration.
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others.
  • If someone is contemplating suicide, he or she usually exhibits the following warning signs:
  • Always talking or thinking about death.
  • Clinical depression – deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating – that gets worse.
  • Having a “death wish,” tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving fast or running red lights.
  • Losing interest in things one used to care about.
  • Making comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless.
  • Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will.
  • Saying things like “It would be better if I wasn’t here” or “I want out.”
  • Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy.
  • Talking about suicide or killing one’s self.
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.

If you recognize these suicide warning signs in someone, get help immediately.

Call the Georgia Crisis & Access Line at 1-800-715-4225 for around-the-clock assistance. The National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Or call 911.

The CDC says protective factors buffer individuals from suicidal thoughts and behavior. Some of the protective factors researchers identified include:

Skills in problem solving, conflict resolution, and nonviolent ways of handling disputes.

Effective clinical care for mental, physical, and substance abuse disorders.

Easy access to various clinical interventions and support for help.

Family and community support (connectedness).

Support from ongoing medical and mental health care relationships.

Cultural beliefs that discourage suicide and support instincts for self-preservation, including seeking help.

Most people are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide. Too often, victims are blamed and their families and friends are left stigmatized. As a result, people often do not communicate openly about suicide. Thus, an important public health problem is left shrouded in secrecy, which limits the amount of information available to those working to prevent suicidal behavior.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov.