Vice Admiral Scott Stearney, the head of U.S. Navy operations in the Middle East, was found dead over the weekend in his residence in Bahrain, the Navy confirmed.
Stearney’s name joins a number of other well-known people who also took their lives this year: Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain and Ellie Soutter, to name a few. It’s another sad reminder that suicide and mental illness can happen to anyone, even very successful people.
It’s unfortunate when we hear of someone ending their life, but perhaps one of the best things we can do when this happens is to continue to bring awareness to the suicide epidemic. We must continue to urge people who are suffering with depression and other mental illnesses to get help. We must continue to de-escalate the stigma around mental illness in this country.
Suicide is a much larger problem than most people realize. For example, for every suicide, there are 25 attempted suicides. There are roughly 123 suicides each day in this country, with the highest rate currently among middle-aged white males. For people with bipolar disorder, it’s even worse, with at least 25 percent to 50 percent of patients attempting suicide at least once.
If we look at clinical depression, for example, it is more than a period of being stuck in the blues. It is a persistent mental illness that can occur cyclically and last for long periods of time. Without treatment, it can get substantially worse for the sufferer. Without the right treatment, sadly, many seek suicide as an escape from their depression. It doesn’t matter who you are, how much money you have, how successful you are or anything else.
The worst part is these deaths can be avoided. There are methods to prevent suicide for yourself or others. Don’t take warning signs lightly. It is always better to be safe rather than sorry, especially when it comes to saving a life.
If someone becomes obsessed with a particular death or the concept altogether, this can be a warning sign something is not quite right. Brash statements about wanting to end it all or the desire to die, need to be taken seriously, always.
Constant rumination and discussion of feelings of hopelessness, no purpose or no motivation are a substantial sign of declining mental health. Your favorite things are no longer admired or desired. Erratic moods and disrupted sleep schedules are also signs of depression declining to potential suicide. Other signs include feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness and weight changes. Comorbidity of substance abuse and depression is common. This is an indication of the user trying to seek an escape from feelings or a situation with which they are unhappy. If an individual suddenly develops the desire to give away possessions or form a will, this can be another indication of planning a suicide attempt. The depressed individual may go as far as to say goodbye to specific people. Regardless if a loved one seems to be suffering a great deal or just ever so slightly, it should always be taken seriously and referred to a mental health professional.
There is an emergence of wonderful treatments available for mental illness, and people don’t have to suffer. There is traditional pharmacology and psychotherapy available, and even newer cutting-edge treatments like Ketamine IV infusions which can help patients feel better almost immediately. This could potentially reduce suicides and buy the patient more time allowing for the appropriate interventions.
As we enter the holiday season, it’s important that we keep an eye on our mental health and the mental health of those closest to us. The holidays have a way of magnifying depression and anxiety, which can increase the chance of suicide. If you are suicidal or suspect someone else is, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Prakash Masand is a psychiatrist and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence.