Monday, September 8, 2014

We're going about suicide prevention the wrong way

Suicide is rare among the general population. It is more common, but still rare, among people with serious mental illness. There are about 38,000 successful suicides per year (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 2010). There are at least 380,000 attempts. The lifetime risk to those with schizophrenia is only 5%. (Hor and Taylor 2010). The lifetime risk to those with bipolar is only 10-15%. (Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2014). Of the 37.5 million Californians, only 3,823  (.01%) took their own lives, and 16,425 (.04%) were hospitalized for self-inflicted injuries in 2010. (California Mental Health Services Authority 2012).   
Advocates regularly overstate the prevalence of suicide and attempts among persons with mental illness in order to curry funding for their programs. At the high end, the National Alliance on Mental Illness claims, “More than 90% of youth suicide victims have at least one major psychiatric disorder.”  (National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 2013)  Mental Health America, a trade association for providers of mental ‘health’ services estimates “30% to 70% of suicide victims suffer from major depression or bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder” (Mental Health America n.d.).
Suicide is not always the irrational act of a sick mind.  Mental illness in people who commit suicide is often diagnosed after the fact. After someone takes his or her own life, we look for a cause. If they take their life after having had lost their spouse or job, gotten a bad grade in school, or received a new medical diagnosis we chalk it up to depression and put the suicide in the mental illness column. 
In spite of being overstated, it is clear that suicide disproportionately affects people with mental illness. Dr. E. Fuller Torrey looked at studies of the prevalence of suicide among the seriously mentally ill and studies of the prevalence of serious mental illness among those who suicide, two sides of the same coin, and in both cases found about 5,000 of the 38,000 suicides (about 14%) were in people with serious mental illness. This is still three times their presence in the general population.  (Torrey n.d.).

Suicide can not be reduced through advertising and public relations

Every suicide is a tragedy for the individual, their family and the community. Many of these suicides could be prevented if persons with mental illness were provided care. Instead of doing that, the industry is funding ineffective feel good campaigns targeted at the general public.