Suicide: A preventable tragedy
From a report authored by Dr. Lin Song for the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health
Suicide is one of the major public health problems in King county. Currently it is the ninth-leading cause of death in the total population, the second-leading cause of death for young adults age 20 to 24, and the third-leading cause of death for teens age 15-19.
In 1994, 207 King County residents lost their lives to suicide, compared to 109 victims of homicide. In addition, there were 1,047 hospitalizations as a result of attempted suicide.
The suicide rate in King County is slightly higher than the national rate. Based on local data, we found that in King county, youth are at the highest risk of attempted suicide, while elderly males have the highest risk of completed suicide. Firearms are the most common method of suicide.
The risk of suicide is associated with the following factors:
The literature on suicide suggests that its cause is a complex web of multiple factors. In addition, some of the most important risk factors include previous attempted suicide, a history of inpatient psychiatric treatment, social isolation, and stressful life events such as job loss or recent loss of a spouse.
- Male gender for completed suicide, and female for attempted suicide.
- Elderly male (age 70+) for completed suicide, and adolescents and young adults for attempted suicide.
- White and Native American races.
- Residence in Central Seattle.
- White individuals living in high poverty areas.
- Mental illness such as major depressive disorder, neurotic disorder, and personality disorder.
- Alcohol consumption.
- The use of firearms, especially handguns.
Effective suicide intervention focuses on identification and removal of these risk factors. Screening and identifying persons with prior suicide attempts and mental health or alcohol problems, followed by appropriate treatment, may prevent some cases of suicide. Providing community support for the reduction of social isolation and providing assistance when experiencing difficult life events may also prove helpful. Limiting access to firearms, especially among high risk persons, may reduce suicide rates.
This report is only a step in an effort to reduce suicide in our community. Government officials, service providers, and the general public are encouraged to use the data and these findings in the development of public policy and prevention strategies through legislation, public education, personnel training, and scientific research.