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When Depression Becomes Deadly

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For those whose depression is part of bipolar disorder, what may make them so prone to suicide attempts is the ''rapid switch from being happy to really, really sad," Krakower says.

Is there any way for loved ones to spot depression about to turn deadly?

Even for doctors, ''it's hard to predict who is going to make a suicide attempt," Schneider says. But there are sometimes warning signs and behaviors that may point to a potential suicide attempt.

One of the most urgent signs, which calls for immediate action, is talking about death or suicide.

Other suicide warning signs, according to Schneider, Krakower, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, include:

  • Talking about hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness
  • Feelings of being trapped, desperate, or anxious
  • Having persistent sadness or depression
  • Becoming more angry or irritable
  • Losing interest in life or loved ones
  • Having sleep problems
  • Contacting people and seeming to say goodbye

Identifying someone at risk of a suicide attempt is only half the battle, Schneider says. "It's hard to say exactly when they would make an attempt."

Not all suicide attempts are thought out or planned, Krakower says. "Suicide attempts can happen out of impulse," he says. "Something goes wrong and people just hurt themselves."

What's the best advice for family and friends if a loved one is depressed and seems in danger of a suicide attempt?

Insist the person get mental health help, Krakower says. "I think a lot of times when people make these statements [about suicide], people don't know what to take at face value. They become numb. They don't know what to do for them."

Steps to take may include:

  • Call 911, a suicide hotline, or police.
  • Don't leave the person alone.
  • Take away weapons, drugs, or anything that a person could use to harm themselves.
  • If possible, take the person to a walk-in clinic or hospital emergency room.

Schneider reports consulting work with pharmaceutical companies that manufacture antidepressant and antipsychotic medications.

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