Life has its ups and downs, but it may feel dark and hopeless for some as if there is no escape. If those feelings begin to turn into suicidal thoughts, you must seek help right away. If someone you know is bringing up hints about suicide in conversation, they may be considering it. Never ignore those hints or try to laugh them off. There are ways to intervene and possibly even prevent a tragedy. Understanding the connection between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and suicide can help you see the signs and may ultimately save someone’s life.
How are ACEs and suicide related?
The facts are pretty scary. Let’s look at suicide first. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States in 2019. More than 47,500 people ended their lives that year.
Suicide was the second leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 34 and the fourth leading cause of death of those between 35 and 44. Think about all those lives cut short before they had a chance to grow and heal. Think about all those devastated families trying to make sense of their loss. Now multiply that by the tens of thousands of suicides each year before and every year after that study. Absolutely heartbreaking.
ACEs are quite common here in the U.S. According to the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, almost two-thirds of the adults surveyed reported at least one adverse childhood experience–and the majority of these individuals said they had more than one ACE.
While we don’t know how many of those 2019 suicide deaths involved people with ACEs, we do know that there is an alarming relationship between ACEs and suicide. According to this 2018 study, “Associations of adverse childhood experiences and suicidal behaviors in adulthood,” Martie Thompson and her team of researchers found not only that those with ACE test scores above zero were more likely than those who scored zero to seriously consider or attempt suicide, but the accumulation of ACEs increased the odds. In fact, Thompson et al say that “…the odds of seriously considering suicide or attempting suicide in adulthood increased more than threefold among those with three or more ACEs.”
More than a decade earlier, Dube et al looked at young people in the CDC study and found that there was an 80% increased risk of attempted suicide while ACE survivors were still children or adolescents. That risk dropped to 67% throughout a lifetime as survivors grew into adulthood–still a highly disturbing number.
Now, let’s think about those stats. If young ACE survivors are at such a high risk of attempted suicide (80%!), and suicide was the second-leading cause of death in young people in 2019, could those suicides have been prevented if we could have prevented those youth from experiencing adverse childhood experiences? Could we prevent most suicides by eradicating child abuse once and for all? This is why we need to talk about ACEs and suicide.
ACEs and Suicide: The warning signs and how you can help
If you or someone you know has experienced one or more of the many types of ACEs, such as child abuse, child sexual abuse, child neglect, child exposure to domestic violence, and other adversities described in the ACE study, then you or that person you know may very well be at risk of attempted suicide. There are other risk factors, as well. Knowing the risks can aid you in being prepared and ready to seek help.
How do we recognize the warning signs if someone we know is considering ending their life? Some of the suicide warning signs are very noticeable, while others are not that conspicuous. Also, there can be differences in risk and warning signs across cultures, orientations, ages, and more. Learn more here. The following lists are a combination of factors mentioned on various nonprofit and government websites dedicated to suicide prevention:
Suicide Warning Signs that Stand Out
- Talking about dying or wanting to die.
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no solutions when having problems.
- Bringing up feelings of guilt or shame.
- Mentioning not having a reason to live or that the world would be much better off without them.
- Not wanting to spend time with family or friends.
- Giving up items most dear to them and wrapping up loose ends.
- Telling family and friends farewell.
Suicide Warning Signs that Are Less Conspicuous
- Any change in conduct. This can be overlooked because it can seem that it is unrelated to suicidal mood. For example, a kind person may turn angry and violent or people that have been battling depression may seem relaxed and happy. Substance abuse or mood swings may be more prominent.
- Changes in sleeping patterns. A change in how people sleep seems like depression, but it’s also a warning side of potential suicide. Sleeping more than usual, not wanting to get out of bed, or not being able to sleep at all are warning signs.
- Owning a lethal weapon. Mentioning they bought a gun. This is something dangerous to discover, but unfortunately, it passes as unnoticeable most of the time.
- Emotional distance. People that step away from their normal activities and other people. This may not seem like a suicidal mood, but it is important to take notice of this type of behavior.
- Physical pain. People feeling uncomfortable may go unnoticed—headaches, digestive upset, or other body aches. Migraines and achy muscles may be amongst the common signs of depression and suicidal moods.
If you or someone you know need help
If you’ve recognized yourself or someone you know in this blog, please know that you are valued, deserving, and you’re not alone. Help is available.
If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 right away. Otherwise, please reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255. The people on the other end of the line are specially trained to help and are available if you’d like to talk.
Wondering how you can make a difference in the lives of children and survivors? The Stop Abuse Campaign offers several suggestions for communities that want to prevent adverse childhood experiences. You can learn more about those here. You can also help raise awareness by sharing this blog on social media. Together, we can prevent ACEs and save lives.
I live in West Palm Beach Florida and I have a Multimedia Journalism degree from Florida Atlantic University. Writing is my passion. I love helping people with information they need to know.