The unexpected suicide of a friend, coworker or loved one leaves many wondering why? New research in the American Journal of Public Health reports suicides have surpassed car crashes as the nation’s leading cause of injury-related death. According to the CDC’s latest published report, there were 34,598 reported suicide deaths in the United States with more than 60% successful on the first attempt in one year alone. Suicide rates are the highest in certain Appalachian counties of Kentucky and West Virginia, southern Oklahoma and northern Florida.
Today, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office released their official findings in the autopsy of director Tony Scott who jumped to his death from the Vincent Thomas Bridge last August. The toxicology report revealed that Scott, 68 had a “therapeutic” amount of anti-depressants and a sleep aid. Like many suicides, the motive remains a mystery. As a lawyer who has sued Florida doctors and hospitals for improperly treating people who have either attempted or committed suicide, the more important question is: “how can suicides be prevented?”
Recently, a Florida Circuit Court dismissed a law suit filed against a doctor and behavioral health clinic that was sued by a woman who was shot by her own husband who then shot and killed himself. She believes that the clinic’s doctor negligently failed to asses her husband’s risk for suicide before discharging him. The court opined that even though the practice of psychiatry had come a long way since “ancient times,” psychiatrists are still unable to predict with any degree of precision an individual’s propensity to cause harm to others or himself.
Currently our Miami hospital accident lawyers are representing a family who lost a husband and father of two after he committed suicide. His death occurred after being discharged from a South Miami detox and addiction treatment hospital and placed into its out-patient evening program. Sadly, the patient never received a formal psychiatric evaluation. Ironically, the man worked as a nurse at the very same hospital for decades. A Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge dismissed the family’s wrongful death claim simply because the suicide occurred off the hospital’s property. The case is currently on appeal in front of the Third District Court of Appeal.
Dr. Igor Galynker of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York believes that a series of key questions asked by doctors could help predict an imminent risk for suicide. His test, “The Suicide Trigger Scale,” (STS) is designed to identify those at the highest risk for suicide. His study found that the typical duration between a suicidal thought and an actual attempt is only about ten minutes. Dr. Galykner’s test does not ask if the patient is actually planning to attempt suicide since many patients conceal their true motives or unconsciously repress actual suicidal ideations.
Risk factors for suicide include psychiatric disorders, chronic physical illness, suicidal ideation, a history of previous suicide attempts, poor social support systems and drug and alcohol abuse. The ability to predict an imminent suicide is critical in our country as there are nearly 35,000 reported suicides every year. I believe many more go unreported.
We may never understand why someone makes the decision to take their own life. But as the number of suicides continue to increase, we must focus our attention on prevention. Since more Americans are unemployed and have decreased access to healthcare, we should all become aware of the common signs and symptoms of suicide before it is too late.