Suicide is not about dying

By Melissa Martin

Individuals that die by suicide do not want to die, they want the excruciating mental pain in their brain to stop. They want the feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, anguish, and despair to go away.

Why Do People Attempt Suicide?

“A suicide attempt is a clear indication that something is gravely wrong in a person’s life. No matter the race or age of the person; how rich or poor they are, it is true that most people who die by suicide have a mental or emotional disorder.” The most common underlying disorder is depression, 30 percent to 70 percent of suicide victims suffer from major depression or bipolar disorder.

Suicide is not a mental disorder, but one of the most important causes of suicide is mental illness – most often major depression or bipolar disorder.

What is Depression?

“Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.”

An episode of depression can be triggered by a stressful life event such as death of a loved one, a major change in finances, loss of employment, divorce or separation, alcohol or drug problem, experiencing trauma or a crisis, and major life changes.

Genetic Factors

How do we know that genes play a role in causing depression? “Scientists look at patterns of illness in families to estimate their “heritability,” or roughly what percentage of their cause is due to genes. To do this we find people with the disease who have a twin, and then find out whether the twin is also ill. Identical (monozygotic) twins share 100% of their genes, while non-identical (“fraternal” or dizygotic) twins share 50% of their genes. If genes are part of the cause, we expect a patient’s identical twin to have a much higher risk of disease than a patient’s non-identical twin. That is the case for major depression. Heritability is probably 40-50%, and might be higher for severe depression.”

Non-genetic Factors

Others factors in the environment can also increase the risk of depression: childhood abuse, disease and illness, traumatic experiences, and severe life stressors.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is the term used to describe all types of abuse, neglect, and other potentially traumatic experiences that occur to people under the age of 18.

There are 10 types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE Study. Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment.

What’s your ACE score? Visit for more information.

Treatment for Depressive Disorders

Major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder are the two major mood disorders.

Talk to your family practitioner and request a referral to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or mental health therapist. Contact your insurance company to explore your coverage and what providers are in network. Individuals without health insurance can contact their local community health center and ask about a sliding scale fee for services.

The takeaway from this column is to have more discussions about depressive disorders. Treatment is available. There is hope for individuals diagnosed with major depression and bipolar disorder. There is hope for individual with suicidal thoughts and plans.

By Melissa Martin