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Mental Health Conditions


Suicidal Behaviour

Suicidal behaviour is characterized by a successful or unsuccessful attempt to kill oneself.

Suicidal behaviour is an unmistakable signal that a person has feelings of desperation and hopelessness. Suicidal behaviour includes attempted suicide, suicide gestures, and completed suicide. An attempted suicide is a suicidal action that is not fatal. If an attempted suicide involves a suicidal action unlikely to have any potential of being fatal, it is called a suicide gesture. A person taking such an action (for example, ingesting six acetaminophene (tablets) may be making a plea for help or attention without having any intention of actually ending his life. A completed suicide is a suicidal action that results in death.

Information on the frequency of suicide comes mainly from death certificates and inquest reports and probably underestimates the true rate. Even so, suicidal behaviour clearly is an all-too-common health problem. Although most suicidal behaviour does not result in death, 10% of people who try to kill themselves using a potentially fatal means do die from their actions.

Suicidal behaviour occurs in people of all ages and of both sexes. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents and is one of the top 10 causes of death among adults in the United States. The highest rate of completed suicide is among men older than 70. In contrast, suicide attempts are more common before middle age. Attempted suicide is particularly common among adolescent girls and single men in their 30s. Across all age groups, women attempt suicide 2 to 3 times more often than men, but men are more apt to die in their attempts.

Married people of either sex, particularly those in a secure relationship, have a much lower suicide rate than single people. People who live alone because of separation, divorce, or a spouse's death have higher rates of attempted and completed suicides. Having a family member who has attempted suicide may increase the risk as well.

Suicide among black women has increased 80% in the last 20 years, so that the overall rate for blacks now equals that for whites, especially in urban areas. Among Native Americans, the rate has also risen recently; in some tribes, it is 5 times the national average. Suicide rates are higher in urban areas than in rural areas worldwide. Many suicides take place in prisons.

Practicing members of most religious groups (particularly Roman Catholics and Jews) are less likely to commit suicide. Such people are generally supported by their beliefs and are provided with close social bonds protecting against acts of self-destruction. However, religious affiliation and strong religious beliefs do not necessarily prevent individual impetuous, unpremeditated suicidal acts during times of frustration, anger, and despair, especially when accompanied by delusions of guilt and unworthiness.

Suicide notes are left by about one of four people who complete suicide. The notes often refer to personal relationships and events that will follow the person's death. Notes left by older people often express concern for those left behind, whereas those of younger people may express anger or vindictiveness. The content of the note may indicate that the person had a mental health disorder that led to the suicidal act.

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