Dear Annie: When my son was a teenager, he attempted suicide three times. My daughter has attempted suicide twice. Her 16-year-old son left a note, but she discovered it and took him to a hospital.
I have moments of complete sadness, but I have never tried to kill myself. Does this suicidal tendency run in families? Is there a “suicide gene”? – Granny to Eleven
Dear Granny: We contacted the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and here is what they said:
Suicide is often misunderstood. Genetics is only a part of the story. In fact, there is no single cause for suicide. Mental health problems are also a contributor to suicide risk, and they run in families, too. Most people who have a mental illness don’t try to kill themselves, but it does put you at a higher risk: Nine out of 10 people who die by suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death. These illnesses are often treatable, but unfortunately, people suffering from illnesses like depression and anxiety do not seek treatment; they think they have to battle these problems on their own. You would not try to fight cancer on your own, so why tackle depression alone?
Suicide attempts – or even thoughts about killing yourself – are clear signs of distress, and you should consult a mental health professional as soon as possible. Since your family has a history of attempts, it is especially important that you all stay on top of your mental health by regularly “checking in” with a mental health professional or your doctor, and with each other. You can’t make someone suicidal by talking about it, and they may feel relief when you ask.
You can learn more about suicide research and prevention at afsp.org. If you or your family members are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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