Kaiya Schmidt’s Suicide Epidemic Paper

Kaiya Schmidt


English 12

16 March 2023 

The Suicide Epidemic: What Can I Do?

Suicide has been something our world has been dealing with for more than three thousand years before it became socially identifiable as “suicide.” The earliest known records we have of suicide are from two thousand BC, and now more than 800,000 people die by suicide every year globally (“Suicide Statistics”). In many developed countries, like South Korea, there have been many preventative measures put in place to slow the suicide rates. They have slowed them down, but the numbers are still growing in other places, such as the United States. If suicide has grown to be an epidemic, than why are we doing nothing to stop it? The world put in so many procedures to stop Covid-19. We took immediate action to stop Covid-19, so why are we not taking immediate action for suicide?

“Each victim of suicide gives his act a personal stamp which expresses his temperament, the special conditions in which he is involved, and which, consequently, cannot be explained by the social and general causes of the phenomenon” (Emile Durkheim). Emile Durkheim was a French sociologist who believed that society induced a powerful force on individuals (“1.2F: Durkheim and Social”). A theory developed by Emile Durkheim was that as society industrialized and people were given their own free thought, the thought of suicide was less known as a “sin,” and more of a societal problem. The way one interacted with their society determined their fate with suicide. Knowing that suicide has been recorded for hundreds of years, we can look back at the evolution of why people have died by suicide (Khan and Fuad). As proven in a study by Morris and Crooks, societal changes have had great impacts in the early colonization of countries.

This study investigated the grey literature produced by Inuit community organizations and Inuit-led regional governments for Inuit understandings of suicide, its causes and prevention. Findings include that Inuit identify rapid colonization and its effects as the root of Inuit’s highest suicide rate of any group in Canada; that suicide cannot be viewed in isolation from socio-economic conditions; that restoring the cultural pride of Inuit is essential to mental well-being; and that Inuit have created suicide prevention models building on strengths, relationship skills building and engaging the community, particularly youth and elders. (Morris and Crooks 321-338)

Due to the poor integration of the Inuit people, there has been a significant increase in suicide because of the aftermath colonization has left them with. As technology advanced in the 1900’s, the link between mental illnesses and suicide became more prominent. This led to more discoveries in the field of psychiatry which ultimately led to increased efforts to grasp and understand suicide (Khan and Fuad). Because our world has had a scope on suicide for hundreds and hundreads of years, there have been certain demographics of minorities in the past and present that are at an increased risk to dying by suicide: BIPOC (Biracial People of Color), the LGBTQ+ community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, +), Hispanic people, AAPI (Asain American and Pacific Islanders), and many more (“Disparities in Suicide”). These minorities face constant degradation, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. As racism has been an issue since the 1880’s due to the Jim Crow Laws, BIPOC, Hispanics, and AAPI have been at risk for harassment, bullying, and violence towards their ethnicities and cultures. The LGBTQ+ community has also been attacked since the 1600’s, as the known “activities” between the same genders was frowned upon as well as criminalized. In 1969, the first emergence of the modern LGBTQ+ movement came to rise: the Stonewall Inn uprising, where police raided an LGBTQ+ safe space. Ever since the uprising, there has been a huge fight for LGBTQ+ rights as well as awareness in suicides in all of these minorities (“LGBTQ HISTORY”). In 2015, the United States legalized gay marriage, but the struggle of the LGBTQ+ communities rights are still being attacked today. The constant harassment of these minorities has led to increased rates of suicide.

Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families, and communities. People of any age, race, ethnicity, or sex can experience suicide risk, but certain groups have substantially higher rates of suicide than the general U.S. population (13.9 per 100,000). Veterans, people who live in rural areas, sexual and gender minorities, middle-aged adults, and tribal populations may disproportionately experience factors linked to suicide. These factors include substance use, job or financial problems, relationship problems, physical or mental health problems, and/or easy access to lethal means. (“Disparities in Suicide”)

The history of suicide is vast and complex, especially dealing with the many minority groups that existed, and exist today. What can you do to help such an intricate epidemic? 

T One potential solution for the growing epidemic of suicide seems more simple than it should be: monitoring public suicide hotspots. “In this video,” says Hyung-Geun Suh, who is the captain of the rescue team that saves people from jumping into South Korea’s Han River, “It seems like it was an unpredictable incident. But there were warning signs. The CCTV (closed-circuit television) shows him walking back and forth as if he is considering something. We were able to rescue him.” Having these CCTV cameras allow a direct view of the bridge so the rescue unit can go save that person’s life. Suh also adds, “I feel proud of myself, but at the same time, it’s quite bittersweet. It’s a win-win situation if the person wanted to live and I saved their life. But in most cases, it’s not like that. Even though I rescued the person, it’s uncomfortable” (“On Patrol”). In addition to the CCTV technology along the bridges, there are also roughly twelve LifeLine telephone booths along the bridge. As soon as you pick up the phone, it instantly connects that person to a suicide hotline. Along with both the CCTV technology and the LifeLine telephones, there are questions written upon mirrors on the barriers of the bridge. These questions ask things like “have you eaten today?’’ or “how are you doing?’’ Not only do they keep a person’s mind off of what bad things they could be thinking, but they also light up at night. When the bridge opened for traffic in the year two thousand, many people started taking the bridge not only to drive across, but also to walk and bike across. As the bridge grew in popularity, more and more people commuted across it to work and to school. The usual work day ends around four to five, just as it gets dark outside. They light up is so people can take their mind off of the busy day they just had, when many adults start thinking about dying by suicide.

A picture of Hyung-Geun Suh walking along the Han River Bridge looking at the questions written on the mirrors. (“On Patrol”)

In 2011, the National Statistic Service reported that 15,906 people died of suicide in one year (South Korea). That is roughly one thousand people taking their own lives every month, or forty three people per day, or one person every forty three minutes. After the Korean War, South Korea experienced rapid economic growth. “We became a great economic power. But now, we are spiritually and mentally exhausted” says Taek-Soo Jung, who works for the Seoul Suicide Prevention Center, states (“On Patrol”). Because Korea has become such an economic capital, people get very competitive. In this collective selfishness, people who are not at the top fall behind, and then are considered useless. Their esteem is then destroyed which leads to depression and suicide. In 2021, the total suicide number was around thirteen thousand (Yoon). In ten years, the suicide rate decreased by two thousand people, so South Korea is doing something right if they can save two thousand more lives. Not only is there just one rescue center on the Han River, but there are four rescue centers with six hundred CCTV cameras along ten bridges. “This system has allowed Seoul to save 96% of the nearly five hundred people who set out to commit suicide at the bridges every year, but it can be difficult for workers to predict suicide attempts.” The Seoul Institute of technology has been working on an AI (artificial intelligence) system that can detect if people are simply taking a stroll and visiting the bridge or if someone is going to jump (Houser). Adding to the importance of the CCTV technology, South Korea was a main hotspot of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The stress of dealing with a global pandemic caused the suicide rescues to surge by 30% in 2020 compared to 2019. Most people that attempted suicide were in their 20’s and 30’s as the pandemic brought hardships job wise along many around the globe. Many people lost their jobs, and battled searching for a new one. The CCTV technology can learn from its own footage, ultimately decreasing the number of false alarm suicide attempts on the bridge (Park, Minwoo, et al.). 

Although there will never be a so called “cure” to suicide, there are other preventions. The second solution would simply be making everyone more aware of suicide prevention methods, and require medical professionals to have even more extensive knowledge of different preventative measures. In 2012, 96.2% of all firearm related fatalities were directly

from suicide. Over the past thirty years (since 2012), suicide has always had a higher fatality rate than homicide, even when firearm violence was at its highest (Wintemute).  

A graph representing the deaths by firearms comparing suicides to homicides from years 1981 to 2012. (Wintemute)

US homicide rates were 7.0 times higher than in other high-income countries, driven by a gun homicide rate that was 25.2 times higher. For 15- to 24-year-olds, the gun homicide rate in the United States was 49.0 times higher. Firearm-related suicide rates were 8.0 times higher in the United States, but the overall suicide rates were average. (Grinshteyn and Hemenway)

The United States has a significant firearm issue compared to other developed countries. As we know, healthcare in the United States isn’t known the best globally. Healthcare providers do not screen their patents for mental health needs consistently enough. Medical professionals miss crucial risk factors such as somebody having ideas of self harm or access to firearms. Certain people are at a greater risk, and healthcare providers are missing crucial steps in helping the suicide epidemic by not properly screening their patients. 

The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for all adults and women of reproductive age for intimate partner violence, both known risk factors for suicide…Although firearm suicide is not exclusively driven by mental illness, a renewed focus on depression and suicide risk screening—especially among adolescents—may help clinicians uncover behavioral risk factors among the slight majority of people who complete suicide with unrecognized mental health conditions. (Goldstein, et al.)

Due to the high fatality rates of firearm induced suicides, many physicians do not routinely demonstrate proper firearm safety, or fail to even cover it at all. But once physicians realize how fatal firearms are with suicides, with an eighty to ninety percent fatality rate, they will take time to properly educate their patents and coworkers (Goldstein, et al.). When a person is displaying signs of suicide, people in their life need that to be brought to their attention. You should always speak up when you suspect someone could be in danger of harming themselves. Reducing the suicide rates starts by making children aware of how they can help their peers. Teaching suicide warnings early on in life, such as in schools, works areas, high risk suicide cities and countries, could decrease the amount of suicide around the world. Offering that you are there to help that person, and offering that you are a safe place can help someone get the help they need. Listening to someone is the most important thing anyone can do. Some warning sign include: 

  • Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling empty or hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
  • Feeling unbearable emotional or physical pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Giving away important possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family
  • Putting affairs in order, such as making a will (NIMH)

Allowing the human species to assimilate into this new normality of making people aware of signs of suicide will decrease the amount of fatal suicide attempts. Starting suicide awareness early in schools will allow futures where everyone in a workspace is aware of suicide warning signs, including the healthcare system. Future physicians will have a better scope of people who are an actual danger to themselves, and not just a “textbook” definition of being a danger to themselves. If suicide is an epidemic, why are schools not educating about it?

It’s easy to be swept away in the statistics of suicide statistics globally. Looking at the global suicide rates in developed and developing countries, seeing which age groups and times of the day are most likely to have issues with suicide. What we haven’t discussed dealing with suicide is gender and sexuality. Sexuality is defined as a person’s identity when it comes to gender or genders they are attracted to. 

Numerous studies have found that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are disproportionately impacted by negative outcomes. LGBTQ youth are more likely to report substance use, experience depression, anxiety, and other forms of emotional distress, as well as suicidal ideation, attempted suicide, and self-harm. These outcomes are thought to be due to the chronic stress stemming from the marginalized social status, and therefore poor treatment, that LGBTQ individuals have in society. (Price-Feeney, et al.)

Many people in the LGBTQ+ community do not feel safe in their schools. The community faces persistent stress from trying to keep a social status, ultimately feeling like they do not have a place in society. 

Moreover, individuals who identify as members of sexual and gender minorities experience increased risk for some mental health issues. For example, LGBTQ-identified individuals have a 2 to 6 times higher lifetime risk of suicide and/or depression than the general population. Among trans-identified individuals, the statistics on suicidality are staggering, with 77% of respondents in one Canadian study reporting that at some time in their lives they had seriously considered suicide and 43% reporting they had made at least one suicide attempt. In a large study of people who identify as gender variant (6450 participants), 41% reported attempting suicide at some point in their lives. (Veltman and  La Rose)

The increased risk for this group of people for mental health issues has been directly associated with discrimination, marginalization, and different types of homophobia (transphobia, biphobia, etc.). Many minors are scared to come out and express themselves because of this, but also because of a fear of rejection from their family members. Rejection from them could result in being kicked out of their home and becoming homeless. “in a large study of LGBTQ-identified youth, those who came from highly rejecting families were more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide than LGBTQ peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection” (Veltman and La Rose). Due to the fear of rejection from family members, LGBTQ+ people can find safe people to talk to such as friends, teachers, and healthcare workers. In most healthcare training programs, there is a significant lack of instruction for LGBTQ+ matters (Veltman and La Rose).

In a study of over 150 medical schools in North America, the median number of hours of education dedicated to LGBTQ-related issues was only 5 hours and more than half of all medical schools reported zero hours of clinical training in LGBT health. This lack of education on LGBTQ-related issues has a negative effect on patient care for this population and contributes to the barriers faced by LGBTQ individuals in accessing high quality, culturally safe, and appropriate mental health care. (Veltman and La Rose)

Due to the proven lack of training in the medical field for LGBTQ+ related issues, physicians and pediatricians won’t be able to properly support their LGBTQ+ patients. 

The most popular strategies recommended or present for increasing LGBT content in the curricula included “curricular material focusing on LGBT-related health and health disparities” and having “faculty willing and able to teach LGBT-related curricular content.” (Obedin-Maliver, et al.)

To inundate the healthcare field with diversity, we need to educate and devote specific assignments to learning about LGBTQ+ people to nursing students, K-12 students, and college students. To evoke diversity, we need to make it a normality. Flooding schools, colleges, and specialized schools will promote the much needed support for LGBTQ+ people. 

It is normal to be overwhelmed by the statistics of death by suicides. The world hasn’t been easy on people in the recent years with a global pandemic. With this global pandemic, it brought many people back to their homes, back to their families. But some families didn’t take the pandemic so well, especially if their child came back to them fully transitioned and didn’t come out to their guardians. The pandemic brought struggles to homes, which brought struggles to people who didn’t see an end to the virus. It will take a lot of work to prevent suicide, especially in the LGBTQ+ community, but it will shape generations to come. Knowing that we can define young generations to come as the “ones who stopped suicide” will have a greater impact on the world than Covid-19 ever did. Remember the ones who we lost, whose lives changed ours. Remember that they are fighting to stop suicide with us, even if they are not by our sides. We can change this, but only if we take time to stop, listen, learn, and grow.


Works Cited

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https://www.cdc.gov/suicide/facts/disparities-in-suicide.html. Accessed 1 March 2023.

Goldstein, Evan V., et al. “The Firearm Suicide Crisis: Physicians Can Make a Difference.” Annals of Family Medicine, vol. 18, no. 3, May 2020, pp. 265–68. EBSCOhost, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7213998/ Accessed 23 February 2023. 

Grinshteyn, Erin, and David Hemenway. “Violent Death Rates: The US Compared with Other High-income OECD Countries, 2010.” The American Journal of Medicine, vol. 129, no. 3, 2016, pp. 266-273. Science Direct, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S000293431501030X Accessed 23 February 2023.

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https://video.vice.com/sv/video/south-koreas-suicide-bridge/5714f8928321242b7b8ce03f Accessed 22 February 2023.

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