15 Myths and Facts About Suicide and Depression
Depression is more common than AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined, and nearly 400,000 people attempt suicide in the U.S. every year.
But even though it's a common and serious problem, many people don't know that much about depression and suicide—including who's at the greatest risk, why, and when they are most likely to be vulnerable.
Here are 15 myths and facts about depression and suicide.
Suicides peak during holidays
"There is a time of year when suicides are more common," says Marcia Valenstein, MD, research scientist at the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research & Development Service. "But it's not when everyone thinks."
Most people think the winter holidays are a risky time, but suicides are lowest in December and peak in the spring.
It's not clear why, but it could be due to changing levels of natural light. "It could be that they have more energy to attempt suicide," says Dr. Valenstein, who is also an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Depression Center, in Ann Arbor.
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Suicide rates climb with altitude
The greater the elevation of a person's home, the higher the risk of suicide, according to a recent study. Suicide rates are about 70 percent higher in regions 2,000 meters in elevation, for example, compared to at sea level.
The effect appeared to hold even after researchers accounted for risk factors such as greater gun ownership and lower population density.
Teens are at greatest risk
Teenage suicides make headlines, but the elderly are more likely to take their own life than any other age group, says Dr. Valenstein.
At particularly high risk are white men over the age of 85, who have a suicide rate of 49.8 deaths per 100,000, compared with about 14 per 100,000 in people over 65, and 11 per 100,000 in the general population.
Still, teenagers remain a high-risk group. One in five high school students says he or she has considered suicide in the past year and 1 in 12 attempts to take his own life. (The suicide rate for 15- to 19-year-olds is 6.9 per 100,000.)
Whites attempt suicide more often than other races
Suicide is more common among whites in the U.S. than blacks, Asians, or Hispanics.
"No one is quite sure why whites are at a higher risk," says Dr. Valenstein. "It might have to do with differences in social support."
The only group at higher risk is American Indian/Alaskan Natives, who have a suicide rate of 14.3 per 100,000 compared to 13.5 per 100,000 for whites and about 5 to 6 per 100,000 for other groups.
Writing style is linked to suicide risk
Creativity, depression, and suicide have long been linked, so it may come as no surprise that some of history's most creative individuals suffered from a mental illness. Depression affected great minds such as Charles Dickens, John Keats, and Tennessee Williams.
Several famous writers have committed suicide, including Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and David Foster Wallace. This group also has something else in common: They all wrote in the first person, which has been suggested to be a sign of suicide risk.
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