Two recent deaths—that of actor Robin Williams on August 11 and of Vermont Law School Professor Cheryl Hanna, on July 27—have drawn attention to the link between depression and suicide. Paul Holtzheimer, MED ’99, is an associate professor of psychiatry and surgery at the Geisel School of Medicine, where he also serves as medical director of the Mood Disorders Service. His clinical and research efforts focus on treatment-resistant mood disorders, brain imaging, and brain stimulation therapies. Holtzheimer spoke with Dartmouth Now about depression and suicide.
If there were just one thing you want people to know about suicide, what would that be?
Fundamentally, death by suicide is preventable. Most suicides occur within the context of mental illness. With appropriate diagnosis and treatment, the vast majority of mental illnesses contributing to suicide can be managed leading to a greatly decreased risk of suicide.
Is it true that the majority of deaths by suicide occur in men?
Although women are more likely to attempt suicide, men comprise the majority of deaths by suicide (greater than 75 percent). This is often because men choose more lethal means (such as gunshot, hanging, jumping). There are other notable risk factors for suicide, including the presence of a mental illness, concurrent substance abuse, and older age. However, it is important to recognize that practically anyone, regardless of gender, age, race/ethnicity, or prior psychiatric history, can be at risk for suicide. Therefore, all credible statements suggesting a wish to die or commit suicide should be taken very seriously.