ATLANTA - It's a troubling trend.
More and more Americans, especially young people, are dying from suicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says suicides are now the second leading cause of death in younger Americans between the ages of 15 and 34. From 1999 to 2014, the number of Americans dying from suicide rose 24%, the Atlanta-based health agency reports. The two groups with the highest jump in suicides: girls ages 10 to 14 and middle-aged men.
"It really troubles me," psychiatrist Dr. Raymond Kotwicki, says. He is the Chief Medical Officer of Skyland Trail, a non-profit mental health treatment facility in Atlanta.Dr. Kotwicki believes there two keys factors playing into the jump in suicide deaths.
"One is having a mental illness, for which you don't receive treatment," Kotwicki says. "That is a real risk factor for suicide completion."
Experts estimate up to 90 percent of people who attempt suicide suffer from a mental illness like major depression. Dr. Kotwicki says there are scientifically-proven, very effective treatments for depression and other mental illnesses, like medication, talk therapy, and support programs.
"But, my concern is that the stigma that goes with saying, 'Yes. I am someone who has a mental illness,' prevents people from engaging and getting that treatment," Kotwicki says.
Another key factor driving the increase in suicides? Kotwicki believes Americans, especially younger people, are feeling more disconnected from the world around them. He says we know strong social connections and a sense of community are both protective against mental illness. But, he believes, we're texting more and talking less than we ever have, driving that disconnect.
"Having somebody looking a computer screen typing doesn't provide the social connectivity that I think is heartfelt, and something that a lot of young people, especially, can use to say, 'You know, I'm having a hard time. But I know there are people. who have my back, who care for me and I know I'll be okay,'" Kotwicki explains.
Substance abuse may also be driving the jump in suicide deaths. The CDC reports most people who die from suicide were intoxicated at or around the time of their deaths, either with alcohol, opioid pain medications, or other drugs. And, Dr. Kotwicki is concerned that the rise in opioid addiction will only fuel the problem.If you're concerned about someone you care about, ask them if they're thinking about suicide, he says. If they are, Dr. Kotwicki says, take it seriously, and get help immediately.
"Call 911 or take the person to the closest emergency room." Suicide, he says, is a medical emergency, just like a heart attack.