Stephen O’Connor, PhD, associate director of the UofL Depression Center
Stephen O’Connor, PhD, associate director of the UofL Depression Center

The number of suicides in the United States has risen in the last 20 years, and the issue has been thrust into the spotlight with the recent deaths of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates have increased 25 percent nationwide, with Kentucky experiencing a 36.6 percent increase between 1999 and 2016.

Researchers with the CDC found that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death. Several factors contribute to risk for suicide, including relationship problems, substance misuse, physical health problems and stress tied to jobs, money, legal issues or loss of housing.

Stephen O’Connor, PhD, associate director of the UofL Depression Center, urges people to reach out to others who they suspect are contemplating suicide.

“The stigma of experiencing suicidal thoughts is often a barrier for people to express what they’re going through. The best way to break that barrier is by having conversations, no matter how uncomfortable they may be,” said O’Connor, a clinical psychologist.

Guidance on conversation starters is available at Seize the Awkward, a campaign by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that provides video scenarios and other information on reaching out to those who are struggling.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the behaviors listed below may be signs that someone is considering suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves.
  • Talking about feeling empty, hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills or buying a gun.
  • Talking about great guilt or shame.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions.
  • Feeling unbearable emotional or physical pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Using alcohol or drugs more often.
  • Acting anxious or agitated.
  • Withdrawing from family and friends.
  • Changing eating and/or sleeping habits.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast.
  • Talking or thinking about death often.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy.
  • Giving away important possessions.
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family.
  • Putting affairs in order, making a will.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, several resources are available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. The service is available to everyone. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the line via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. All calls are confidential.

UofL Hospital provides emergency psychiatric services 24/7 with specialists who stabilize adults experiencing mental health crisis. To contact emergency psychiatric services, call 502-562-3120.

UofL Physicians – Psychiatry, which includes the UofL Depression Center, provides treatment for mental health issues including addiction, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, geriatric psychiatry and women’s mental health. For appointments, call 502-588-4450.

Active Minds RSO

The University of Louisville has an Active Minds RSO on campus. The group’s mission is to make sure every student knows that mental illness is treatable, suicide is preventable, and help is available.

Learn more about the research and find out how you can support mental health awareness and suicide prevention at