SIKESTON -- While spring often marks a time of joy and excitement for many as weather conditions improve, it also proves to be a time of depression and increased suicide for others.
"March, April and May are the months when the highest rates of death by suicide occur," said Richard Wetzel, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis. "Depressed people are thinking, 'Everyone else is happier than me.' And you have to remember that major depression occurs year-round -- it doesn't go away when the weather gets sunny."
Each year nearly 30,000 people die by suicide in the United States, Wetzel said. According to the Missouri Department of Health, between 1990 and 2000, a total of 142 deaths by suicide occurred in New Madrid, Mississippi, Scott and Stoddard counties. Of those deaths, residents ages 35-64 were the largest group of suicides with 62.
Approximately 94 or 95 percent of persons who commit suicide have a psychiatric disorder or a medical illness, Wetzel noted. The other 5 or 6 percent are just normal people who have had something bad happen in their lives such as losing the love of their life, he explained.
Major depression is the psychiatric diagnosis most commonly associated with suicide. About two-thirds of people who complete suicide are depressed at the time of their deaths, according to the American Association of Suicidology. The risk of suicide in people with major depression is about 20 times that of the general population.
"Suicide is a male activity," Wetzel noted. "Statistics show males are four times more likely to die from suicide than are females, while females are three times more likely than males to attempt suicide."
Most major depression cases are treatable, but men generally don't want to go to the doctor so their depression isn't treated, Wetzel reasoned.
The remaining one-third of depressed individuals who commit suicide are usually people who have problems with substance abuse and 50 percent of those people were diagnosed prior to their deaths, he added.
"Alcoholism is definitely a way to screw up your life," Wetzel noted. "When an alcoholic commits suicide it's usually because they're depressed and have suffered a string of losses. Maybe they've lost their wife, a job, a child or something of great importance to them."
Two-thirds of people who commit suicide with a medical condition have a terminal illness, Wetzel said. Terminally ill people don't want to put up with pain so they end their lives, he concluded.
While suicides are difficult to predict, nearly 70 to 80 percent of those who die by suicide have talked about it with more than one person on more than one occasion.
"They just come right out and tell you, 'I'm going to kill myself,' or 'This is the last time you'll see me,' or they may be more subtle, 'You'd be better off without me,' or 'I'd be better off dead,'" Wetzel said.
While it is true that there are almost always warning signs, these signs are not always easily detected nor do they always give the concerned party ample time to react, said Kevin Coffee of Bootheel Counseling Services in Sikeston.
"So an absolute profile of the suicidal individual doesn't exist. And the bottom line is that any person who feels overwhelmed and unable to cope may be at risk of suicide," Coffee said.
The lowest day of the year for suicide deaths is Dec. 23, and the lowest holiday is Thanksgiving Day, Wetzel said.
It is important to remember that there are often feelings of guilt and/or regret after a loved one has died, Coffee said. Regardless of the manner in which the person has died, these feelings or thoughts can be expected, he said.
"Helping the individual to talk about their thoughts and feeling will help them to deal with their loss. Also, many people find that they did all that they could've done. Remember, suicide is generally preventable, but not always. These individuals may possess the need for therapy services as a result of their loss and subsequent thoughts or feelings," Coffee explained.
Surviving family members not only suffer the loss of a loved one to suicide, but are also themselves at higher risk of suicide and emotional problems, Wetzel said. It's estimated that for every suicide there are six survivors.
From time to time, Bootheel Counseling Services offer support groups for those who have loved ones commit suicide, Coffee said. The most recent group was offered at the end of last year. In addition to this, community education programs, group therapy, individual therapy, as well as crisis intervention services are available.
"If an individual is concerned for a person who may be dealing with thoughts of suicide, then that individual can offer vital support and encouragement to the person. Clergy, teachers, friends and family can also be very helpful," Coffee recommended.
Additionally, the individual should contact a mental health professional, mental health crisis line (1-800-356-5395), physician or someone else who may be qualified to offer the person help, Coffee said. The person should not be left alone until they have received adequate help, he said.
"If a person is in obvious danger of harming himself or herself, then 911 or local law enforcement should be contacted to provide immediate safety for the individual," Coffee insisted. "Once the danger is addressed, then mental health services can be provided."
For more information, visit the American Association of Suicidology Web site at www.suicidology.org.
Be aware of the warning signs
There is no typical suicide. It happens to young and old, rich and poor. Fortunately there are some common warning signs which, when acted upon, can save lives.
A person might be suicidal if he or she:
* Talks about committing suicide
* Has trouble eating or sleeping
* Experiences drastic changes in behavior
* Withdraws from friends and/or social activities
* Loses interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
* Prepares for death by making out a will and final arrangements
* Gives away prized possessions
* Has attempted suicide before
* Takes unnecessary risks
* Has had recent severe losses
* Is preoccupied with death and dying
* Loses interest in their personal appearance
* Increases their use of alcohol or drugs
Source: American Association of Suicidology