The words are chilling, eye-opening, and often a plea for help from people in pain:
“My next option is suicide. I have no doubts if they don’t find an effective treatment soon I will get to the point where I won’t be able to take it anymore.”
“I have considered ending my life. If I get to a place where my pain cannot be treated and I cannot take care of myself I will euthanize myself.”
“I, too, think about it every single day. The pain I would leave my family with is the only thing that keeps me from doing it.”
“No relief is coming until you are dead.”
These are some of the comments left by readers to our story about the suicide of Dick Trickle, the retired NASCAR driver who took his life last week. According to his brother, Trickle had severe chronic pain under his left breast from an undisclosed condition.
“He must have just decided the pain was too high, because he would have never done it for any other reason,” Chuck Trickle told ESPN.
Sadly, suicide is an all too common thought for people with chronic pain. According to one survey, 50% of chronic pain patients have had serious thoughts of committing suicide due to their pain. Many suffer from depression or other risk factors associated with suicide, including substance abuse, loss of work, financial problems and social isolation.
“All of these things individually are risk factors for suicide and I think when someone has chronic pain they sort of all come together. That heightens the risk,” said Gillian Murphy, PhD, Director of Standards, Training and Practices at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
“They may not even be engaged in any treatment or seeing anyone for behavioral health, therapy or counseling, which can itself be a problem,” Murphy says, adding that it’s important for family physicians — not just psychiatrists — to recognize the risk factors for suicide and to ask their patients if they have any thoughts about harming themselves.
“What we do know about suicide risk is that people are very reluctant to talk about it initially, but can feel very relieved if someone just asks them ‘Are you thinking of harming yourself?’ It almost feels like a weight off their shoulders that they can get the opportunity to express it and talk more about it.”
“We can’t stress enough the need for people to ask directly, and not in a roundabout way, if someone is having these thoughts,” Murphy told National Pain Report. “I think that within the general medical community they’re not attuned to doing that and they’re not so comfortable doing it. We recommend that primary physicians ask about and recognize suicide risk, and for this group in particular (chronic pain patients), because they are a high risk group.”
Friends, family and caretakers can help too by being alert for possible warning signs of suicide, such as depression, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, mood swings, and if someone becomes withdrawn.
The biggest red flag of all, according to Murphy, is someone who openly talks about killing themselves.
“A lot of people think if they really wanted to do it they wouldn’t tell me, you know they would just go and do it. That’s not exactly true,” she said. “Many people will make a lot of statements about ‘I can’t go on’ or ‘This is too much for me.’ They’re just reaching out for someone to ask them the question. You really have to take it seriously if someone you know ever mentions thinking about wanting to die.”
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with about 34,000 people killing themselves each year. A recent study found that firearms remain the leading mechanism for suicide, but researchers also noted an increase in the number of intentional overdoses associated with prescription opioid painkillers.
If you or a loved one are in emotional distress, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has counselors available 24 hours day, seven days a week, at 800-273-TALK (8255). You are not alone. Help and hope are available.