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Suicide is the act of taking one's own life on purpose. Suicidal behaviour can range from thoughts of killing oneself to actually going through with the act.

What is going on in the body? 
An individual who thinks or talks about suicide is considering ending his or her life. In some cases, thoughts of suicide are never acted upon. In other cases, suicidal thoughts lead to an attempt at ending one's life.

People who are more prone to commit suicide are:
  • 15 to 24 years old or over 65 years old
  • living alone or have no children under age 18 living in the house
  • suffering from major life stress such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or a divorce
Eighty percent of completed suicides are men. However, most people who try to commit suicide but don't actually die are women between the ages of 25 and 44 years old. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among children 10 to 19 years old.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
Symptoms associated with suicide include:
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • problems concentrating
  • problems sleeping
  • difficulty finding happiness in things that previously would have made the person happy
  • severe anxiety, leading to panic
  • "accidents" occurring after expressing thoughts of suicide
  • statements indicating a desire to commit suicide
  • depressed feelings
  • sudden efforts directed at getting one's "life in order"
  • giving away of possessions
  • change in habits, such as eating or personal care habits
  • silence or withdrawal
  • verbal statements, such as "I want to die", or "I wonder what they'll do when I am gone"
  • failing grades or poor work performance
  • risk-taking behaviour
  • alcohol or drug addiction
Most of the people "thinking of committing suicide" have seen their doctor within the past 6 months.

What are the causes and risks of the condition? 
Risks for suicide vary greatly. A mental disorder such as severe depression or alcoholism is a common risk factor.

Other risk factors include: A combination of biological, emotional, intellectual and social factors play a part in suicide risk. Factors that may contribute to teenage suicidal risk include:
  • sadness
  • stress
  • poor school performance
  • peer pressure
  • grief
  • learning disabilities
  • illness or physical disabilities
  • desire to be perfect
  • lack of friends
  • questions about sexual identity
  • feelings of being disliked
What can be done to prevent the condition? 
Suicide prevention consists of taking a person's suicide threats seriously. Others should also watch for signs that a person is planning to commit suicide. Steps include:
  • listening carefully to the person at risk
  • offering an open, non-judgmental conversation
  • offering the person a positive solution
  • discussing options for seeking help
  • offering support for the person in finding help and treatment
How is the condition diagnosed? 
The doctor will ask about the person's symptoms. He or she will also want to know about the individual's risk factors.

What are the long-term effects of the condition? 
Suicidal thoughts may result in the person taking his or her own life.

What are the risks to others? 
Suicide is not contagious. If a person shows a risk of committing suicide along with a friend, both people should be evaluated further.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
Several factors should be taken into account when designing a treatment plan for a person who has attempted or may commit suicide. These include:
  • the method the person plans to use for committing suicide. It should be determined if the person has access to firearms, medications, or other methods to carry out his or her plan.
  • whether the person has social support
  • whether the person has control over his or her actions and judgment
A person should be hospitalised if he or she has:
  • a suicidal plan
  • the means of carrying out the plan
  • poor ability to control his or her actions
  • poor judgment
  • lack of social support
In some cases a person who has a plan to commit suicide, but does not have the means, may not need to be hospitalised. If the individual has good mental judgment and good social support, he or she may undergo further evaluation for psychiatric disorders and stressors. Medications, such as antidepressants may also be used. Individual therapy as well as family therapy may be recommended.

A person who expresses thoughts of suicide, but does not have a plan to commit suicide should undergo psychiatric evaluation. The stressors in the person's life should be evaluated as well. Antidepressants may be recommended. Individual, group and/or family therapy may also be used.

In some cases of suicidal plans and attempts, the doctor may recommend special programs. These may include programs for treatment of alcoholism or drug abuse. The doctor may also recommend electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This therapy might be used if antidepressants are not effective. It can also be considered or a quicker form of treatment is needed.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
Side effects to treatment will depend on the treatment used. Side effects to antidepressants may include stomach upset, difficulty sleeping, headache, and irritability. Side effects to ECT may include temporary memory loss, muscle pain and tenderness, and headaches.

What happens after treatment for the condition? 
Treatment may continue for some time. It may include antidepressants, therapy, and follow-up appointments.

How is the condition monitored? 
A person may be asked to report any new suicidal thoughts or plans. The family may be asked to monitor the person's mood and behaviour. They may also be asked to report their perception of the person's suicidal risk. The person should also be given a 24 hour crisis phone number to call in case suicidal thoughts or plans develop.

Author: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 27/02/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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