Suicide awareness: Just a mood swing?

July 11th, 2018 / By Pamela Ewing, CPC

Some of us have had periods of sadness; a dark period when joy and happiness are absent. I certainly have. I tried to tell myself it was just a mood swing. I was fortunate that a friend noticed my “mood swing” and talked to me about depression and anxiety. She even asked me if I had thoughts of harming myself. Her question took me by surprise and made me realize this might not be a mood swing. No, I had no thoughts of hurting myself, but I was glad she asked me that tough question. It made me realize I needed to talk to my doctor.

The word suicide evokes many emotions. For me it provokes a feeling of loss, absolute finality, a life left unfinished and thoughts of what could have been. There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when life’s stressors exceed our current coping abilities.

The unfortunate truth is that many of us will be affected by suicide, whether through an acquaintance, neighbor, co-worker or a family member.

As healthcare professionals, we have patients that appear to be struggling or report that they have suicidal ideation. Many people do not act upon these thoughts; however, an ever-growing number do.

I challenged my knowledge about suicide and found it eye opening. Here are a few facts about this national crisis:

  • Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people.
  • There has been a significant rise in the suicide rate among youth, ages 10 to 14. Suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death for this age group, accounting for 425 deaths per year and coming close to the death rate for traffic accidents, which is the most common cause of death for young people.
  • It is the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
  • There has been a significant rise in suicide rates in the elderly, 65 and over. Untreated depression is the most common cause for elderly suicide.
  • There were more than twice as many suicides in the United States as there were homicides.

Now that we know some of the key facts for suicide, let’s look at some signs and symptoms exhibited by patients as outlined by the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
  • Planning or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
  • Talking about great guilt or shame
  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
  • Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Using alcohol or drugs more often
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
  • Talking or thinking about death often
  • Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
  • Giving away important possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family
  • Putting affairs in order, making a will

When life’s stressors exceed your current coping abilities, we need to be comfortable talking about it with a trusted friend or healthcare professional. Speaking for myself, that conversation I had with a concerned friend led me on my path to finding my joy and happiness again.

Sharing is caring. We can all take part in suicide prevention. 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Pamela Ewing, CPC, CLA, is a coding analyst for 3M Health Information Systems.