New CDC report on suicides shows increase in rates

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A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the U.S. suicide rate went up 30 percent in half the states since 1999. Also, more than half of those who killed themselves did not have a known mental health issue. Maricopa Integrated Health System chief psychiatrist Dr. Carol Olson tell us more about the report and discuss three recent high-profile suicides.

TED: A NEW REPORT BY THE CENTERS FOR DIESEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION SHOWS THAT IN MUCH OF THE U.S., THE SUICIDE RATE IS UP BY AS MUCH AS 30 PERCENT SINCE 1999. AND MORE THAN HALF OF THOSE THAT KILL THEMSELVES DID NOT HAVE KNOWN MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE. THE RECENT SUICIDES OF DESIGNER KATE SPADE AND CELEBRITY CHEF ANTHONY BOURDAIN HAVE FURTHER ELEVATED THIS ISSUE. HERE TO TALK ABOUT SUICIDES AND THE LATEST CDC REPORT IS DR. CAROL OLSON, CHIEF PSYCHIATRIST OF THE MARICOPA INTEGRATED HEALTH SYSTEM. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BEING HERE. KIND OF A SENSITIVE TOPIC HERE. CAN SUICIDE EVER TRULY BE UNDERSTOOD?

CAROL OLSON: WELL, I THINK -- YOU KNOW, OBVIOUSLY IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO READ THE MIND OF SOMEONE WHO ULTIMATELY COMMITS SUICIDE BECAUSE THEY ARE NO LONGER THERE, SO YOU CAN'T ASK THEM WHAT WAS IN THEIR MIND. BUT CERTAINLY THERE ARE MANY MORE ATTEMPTS AT SUICIDE THAN COMPLETED SUICIDES, SO WE HAVE INTERVIEWED MANY, MANY, MANY PEOPLE WHO HAVE GOT INTO THE POINT OF TRYING TO END THEIR, INTENDING TO END THEIR LIFE, BUT BEEN UNSUCCESSFUL, AND TYPICALLY WHEN PEOPLE ARE IN THAT STATE, IT'S ALMOST -- THEY REALLY AREN'T THINKING CLEARLY. THEIR THOUGHTS ARE VERY DISTORTED, AND MANY IN CASES THEY COME TO BELIEVE THEY ARE SUCH A BURDEN ON THEIR FAMILY MEMBERS THAT IT IS BETTER FOR EVERYONE IF THEY WERE TO DIE.

TED SIMONS: I WAS GOING TO ASK. OF THOSE WHO ATTEMPT OR COMMIT SUICIDE, DO THEY UNDERSTAND THE PAIN THAT THEY ARE CAUSING THOSE LEFT BEHIND?

CAROL OLSON: I DON'T THINK THAT THEY DO. IN MOST CASES, IT'S VERY CLEAR THAT THEY LOVED THEIR FAMILY, LOVED THEIR CHILDREN, BUT THE -- I THINK WHAT PEOPLE DON'T UNDERSTAND ABOUT SEVERE -- WHAT WE CALL MAJOR DEPRESSION OR CLINICAL DEPRESSION IS THAT IT REALLY IS A BRAIN DISORDER, AND THE PERSON IS NOT THINKING CLEARLY. THEY ARE CONFUSED ABOUT THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES AND ABOUT WHAT THE -- WHAT THEIR -- LOSING THEIR LIFE, THE IMPACT THAT WILL HAVE UPON THEIR FAMILY.

TED SIMONS: THAT'S INTERESTING YOU BRING THAT UP BECAUSE I WAS GOING TO ASK ABOUT BRAIN CHEMISTRY. RESEARCH INTO BRAIN CHEMISTRY, IS THAT SHOWING ANY SIGNS OF FINDING SOLUTIONS OR AT LEAST FINDING THE KEY TO THIS ISSUE?

CAROL OLSON: WELL, THERE'S -- THERE'S A LARGE VOLUME OF RESEARCH IN MAJOR DEPRESSION, AND CLEARLY, THERE ARE DISTURBANCES IN NEUROTRANSMITTERS OR CHEMICALS IN THE BRAIN, BUT OBVIOUSLY THE HUMAN BRAIN IS EXTREMELY COMPLEX, AND SO IT HAS NOT GOTTEN TO THE POINT WHERE, FOR EXAMPLE, THEY CAN DIAGNOSE DEPRESSION WITH A BLOOD TEST OR NECESSARILY CHOOSE A SPECIFIC MEDICATION FOR THAT PARTICULAR PERSON'S DEPRESSION. IT HAS NOT PROGRESSED TO THAT -- THAT POINT. BUT CERTAINLY, THEY ARE MAKING A LOT OF PROGRESS, AND THERE'S MORE AND MORE TREATMENTS BECOMING AVAILABLE FOR DEPRESSION.

TED SIMONS: YET MAKING A LOT OF PROGRESS, BUT THESE SUICIDES -- THE RATES ARE INCREASING. WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?

CAROL OLSON: I DON'T THINK WE -- WE KNOW FOR SURE WHY THE RATE OF SUICIDE HAS INCREASED, BUT IT HAS INCREASED SUBSTANTIALLY ACROSS THE COUNTRY, IN 49 OUT OF 50 STATES SINCE 1999. RATES WERE GOING DOWN PRIOR TO THAT. THEY ARE NOW GOING UP, ESPECIALLY IN THE LAST FIVE TO TEN YEAR PART OF THAT PERIOD THEY’VE BEEN GOING UP. ON AVERAGE UP 30% ACROSS THE COUNTRY, WHICH IS HUGE IF YOU CONSIDER THAT SUICIDE IS OUR TENTH LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH, AND COMPARE THAT TO SOME OF OUR OTHER LEADING CAUSES OF DEATH LIKE CANCER AND CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE, OTHER TYPES OF ILLNESSES. WE'RE MAKING MUCH BETTER PROGRESS ON THOSE ILLNESSES.

TED SIMONS: BUT DO WE HAVE ANY IDEA, ANY HINTS? ANYTHING TO GO ON?

CAROL OLSON: SO, I THINK MOST PEOPLE INVOLVED IN THE FIELD BELIEVE THAT ONE PART OF IT HAS TO DO WITH THE AVAILABILITY OF LETHAL MEANS. AS I SAID, MANY MORE PEOPLE ATTEMPT SUICIDE THAN ACTUALLY ARE SUCCESSFUL, BUT WITH THE OPIOID CRISIS, WITH MORE AVAILABILITY OF OPIDOID MEDICATION AND OVERDOSE WITH OPIOID IS MUCH MORE COMMONLY LETHAL THAN A LOT OF THE OTHER MEDICATIONS PEOPLE MIGHT USE. IN ADDITION, WE HAVE A LOT OF GUNS IN THE COUNTRY. FIREARM FOR MEN ARE THE MOST COMMON CAUSE OF SUICIDE -- OR THE MOST COMMON METHOD THAT IS USED. SO THAT'S ANOTHER FACTOR. IN ADDITION I DON'T THINK WE CAN DISCOUNT THE FACT THAT WE HAD A GREAT RECESSION SEVERAL YEARS AGO, IN WHICH MANY PEOPLE LOST THEIR HOMES, MANY PEOPLE'S MARRIAGES WERE IMPACTED BECAUSE OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF THAT GREAT RECESSION, AND THOSE ARE RISK FACTORS, A DECLINE IN YOUR FINANCIAL STATUS, A CHANGE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP STATUS, SO YOU HAVE FEWER SOCIAL SUPPORTS ARE RISK FACTORS FOR SUICIDE.

TED SIMONS: WE HEAR THAT SUICIDE, THEY SHOW LITTLE SIGN PRIOR TO THE ACT, WE HEAR THAT A LOT. WE ALSO HEAR THAT PEOPLE -- WE KNEW THIS WAS COMING. WE COULD SEE THIS COMING A MILE AWAY. HOW DO YOU KNOW? HOW CAN YOU ASSESS, WHEN A FRIEND, LOVED ONE, ACQUAINTANCE IS HEADED ON A BAD TRACK?

CAROL OLSON: SO -- ALTHOUGH MANY TIMES WHEN A CELEBRITY COMMITS SUICIDE, PEOPLE FEEL LIKE THEY KNOW THAT PERSON AND SO THEY WILL SAY I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS PERSON DID THAT? YOU KNOW, THEY ARE A COMEDIAN, OR WHATEVER. THEY HAD NO IDEA, BUT USUALLY IF YOU TALK TO FRIENDS OR FAMILY MEMBERS, THEY WERE AWARE THAT SOMETHING WAS GOING ON WITH THAT PERSON, PEOPLE WHO KNEW THEM BETTER, AND THE THINGS THAT YOU NEED TO LOOK OUT FOR ARE RAPID MOOD SWINGS, ANGER OUTBURSTS, ESCALATION IN USE OF ALCOHOL AND DRUGS, MAKING COMMENTS ABOUT FEELING TRAPED OR LIFE DOESN'T HAVE MUCH MEANING. WHEN SOMEONE GETS VERY CLOSE TO SUICIDE, OFTEN THEY WILL DO THINGS LIKE GIVING AWAY TREASURED PROCESSIONS, CALLING PEOPLE THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO THEM THAT MAYBE THEY HAVEN'T TALKED TO IN A WHILE, SO MANY TIMES IF YOU LOOK BACK, YOU CAN SEE THOSE WERE SIGNS LEADING UP TO IT.

TED SIMONS: IF YOU SEE THOSE SIGNS, WHAT DO YOU SAY TO SOMEONE WHO IS EXHIBITED THESE SIGNS? WHAT DO YOU NOT SAY?

CAROL OLSON: IT'S IMPORTANT THAT WHEN PEOPLE OWN SERVE THOSE SIGNS THAT THEY APPROACH THE PERSON AND -- AND ASK THEM ABOUT IT, AND YOU CAN GET INTO THAT CONVERSATION BY SAYING SOMETHING LIKE, HEY, I NOTICED THAT YOU ARE NOT YOUR USUAL SELF. CAN YOU TELL ME, HOW ARE YOU FEELING? AND THEN YOU CAN MOVE ON FROM THAT AS YOU HAVE THE CONVERSATION INTO -- YOU KNOW, HAVE YOU STARTED TO FEEL KIND OF HOPELESS OR LIKE THINGS AREN'T EVER GOING TO GET BETTER, AND ULTIMATELY PROGRESS TO WHETHER THEY ARE HAVING THOUGHTS OF WANTING TO BE DEAD? AND IF SO, ARE THEY HAVING THOUGHTS OF TAKING THEIR OWN LIFE? I THINK THE THINGS PEOPLE ARE SOMETIMES CONCERNED ABOUT IS THAT IF THEY BRING UP ASKING ABOUT SUICIDE THAN THAT IS GOING TO SUGGEST IT TO SOMEBODY WHO ISN’T THINKING ABOUT IT.

TED SIMONS: RIGHT.

CAROL OLSON: AND THAT REALLY IS KIND OF A MYTH. IT DOESN'T PROMPT PEOPLE TO COMMIT SUICIDE TO ASK ABOUT IT, AND WHAT -- MANY PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN PREVENTED FROM ATTEMPTING TO TAKE THEIR LIFE SAY WHAT WAS MOST IMPORTANT TO THEM WAS THAT THE PEOPLE AROUND THEM INDICATED, HEY, YOUR LIFE IS VALUABLE TO ME, TO US. WE WANT TO HELP YOU. WE UNDERSTAND THAT RIGHT NOW THINGS SEEM VERY BLEAK, BUT YOUR LIFE IS IMPORTANT TO US, AND WE WANT TO HELP YOU TO GET HELP.

TED SIMONS: AND A WAY TO GET HELP ARE THESE SUICIDE HOT LINES, CORRECT?

CAROL OLSON: THAT'S ONE WAY. SOMETIMES PEOPLE ARE NERVOUS ABOUT CALLING THOSE KIND OF HOT LINES. IF THE PERSON HAS A PRIMARY CARE DOCTOR, THAT WOULD BE A PERSON TO CALL. MANY TIMES PEOPLE WITH DEPRESSION CAN HAVE AN UNDERLYING MEDICAL PROBLEM THAT IS CONTRIBUTING TO IT. SO IT MAKES SENSE TO HAVE A FULL EVALUATION, AND THEY CAN BE REFERRED TO A BEHAVIORAL HEALTH SPECIALIST. OBVIOUSLY IF IT IS IMMANENT, AND YOU FIND A SUICIDE NOTE OR SOMETHING WHERE YOU KNOW -- THEN YOU SHOULD CALL 911, OBVIOUSLY, RATHER THAN A SUICIDE HOT LINE.

TED SIMONS: THAT'S GREAT INFORMATION. WE HAD A COUPLE OF SUICIDE PREVENTION HOT LINES UP THERE, AND DR. CAROL OLSON, GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

CAROL OLSON: THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

TED SIMONS: UP NEXT ON "ARIZONA HORIZON," PHOENIX'S BURTON BARR LIBRARY IS REOPENING AFTER SEVERE WATER DAMAGE LAST YEAR.

Dr. Carol Olson, Maricopa Integrated Health System chief psychiatrist

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