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Depression and Suicide: Recognizing the Signs

People who suffer from severe depression may be at risk of suicide. Although suicide cannot be predicted or prevented with certainty, knowing the warning signs can help you recognize when you or a loved one may be at risk. The most effective way to prevent suicide is to recognize the warning signs, respond immediately, and treat underlying causes of suicide such as depression.

Some warning signs of suicide include the following behaviors:

  • Talking about suicide
  • Frequently talking about death
  • Talking about feeling hopeless, helpless, or worthless and saying things like, "It would be better if I wasn't here" or "I want out."
  • Depression symptoms including deep sadness, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, trouble sleeping and eating
  • Abrupt change of mood, from extreme sadness to happiness or calm
  • Risk-taking behavior such as driving too fast and recklessly
  • Calling or visiting people to say goodbye
  • Putting affairs in order such as making changes to their will

Along with these behaviors, a person is at higher risk of attempting suicide if he or she has a chronic or terminal illness, is separated or divorced, is underemployed or unemployed, or has a family history of suicide.

Be especially concerned about depression and suicide if a person exhibits any of these warning signs and has attempted suicide in the past. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, between 20%-50% of people who commit suicide tried before.

Depression and Suicide: What You Can Do

First, if someone you know appears to be depressed and is contemplating suicide, take them seriously. The risks and consequences of depression and suicide simply cannot be ignored. Listen to what the depressed person is saying. Ask what he or she is planning, but don't attempt to argue with them. Rather, let them know that you care and are listening.

Seek help immediately if you have any reason to suspect a friend, relative or acquaintance may be considering suicide. Encourage the troubled person to seek the help of a mental health professional, particularly a therapist with knowledge and expertise in depression and suicide. Suicidal people may hesitate to accept such advice, so you may have to be persistent. If the individual doesn't want to see a therapist, encourage him or her to talk to their doctor or call a suicide prevention hotline. If the person refuses to seek help altogether, contact a suicide prevention hotline yourself for guidance on how to help your friend or loved one.

If a friend or loved one appears to be in danger of committing suicide imminently, do not leave them alone. Remove dangerous objects or drugs from the vicinity. Accompany the person to the nearest emergency room. If the person refuses to go to the emergency room, call 911.

To minimize the risks of depression and suicide, support your friend or family member during treatment. Help them remember to take their antidepressant or other medications and to continue any other therapy prescribed.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on May 17, 2012

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