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Straight Talk, Tough Subject

By on January 1, 2020

Recognizing Depression, Preventing Suicides

BY: DR. JOHN McELLIGOTT, DR. JOHN’S MEDICAL SOLUTIONS

Many articles have been written about suicide, its causes, prevention suggestions, and the impact on those left behind. Every year, approximately 50,000 people take their own lives in the U.S. and Canada. By some estimates, the number of immediate family members, relatives, friends, coworkers and others who are directly affected top 1.5 million. They’re left with their grief and often struggle to understand why a cherished life ended so abruptly. You may be able to make a life-saving difference.

Consider these suicide statistics reported by the American Association of Suicidology:

  • 10th leading cause of death for the population at large
  • On average, one suicide occurs every 11.7 minutes
  • Across the U.S., 123 individuals are lost to suicide each day, 12 in Canada
  • 2nd leading cause of death for teens and young adults

Recognizing Depression

Whatever the underlying cause(s), the links between depression and suicide are undeniably strong. While not the root cause of all suicides, recognizing depression and its severity are critical. At times, anyone can experience unhappiness, sadness or feel down. Is there any difference between these shifting moods and what is called “depression?” In my experience, anyone who has grappled with an episode of depression would likely answer a resounding “yes.” 

Depression, versus ordinary unhappiness, is characterized by longer and deeper feelings of despondency and the presence of well-known symptoms. The distinction is important to recognize. In severe cases, depression can be life-threatening, with suicide as a possible outcome. Frequently ignored or untreated, depression can prevent sufferers from taking steps to help themselves. This is unfortunate, as effective help is available. Recognizing depression and preventing its progression are critical to turning things around.

Depression Links to Suicide

  • Major depression is the psychiatric diagnosis most commonly associated with suicide
  • Approximately two-thirds of people who commit suicide are depressed at the time of their deaths
  • One of every 16 people who are diagnosed with depression will eventually end their lives through suicide
  • The risk of suicide among people with major depression is about 20 times higher than the general population
  • People who’ve experienced multiple episodes of depression are at greater risk than those who’ve had one isolated episode
  • People who have an alcohol and/or drug dependency in addition to being depressed are at greater risk

Now, my favorite life coach, Carolyn O’Byrne, will add her expertise and some additional straight talk that will help you help yourself and others should the pressures of life on the road for weeks or even months turn into what seems like unbearable stress.

Look for Warning Signs

Many times, depression and anxiety are the precursors that foster suicidal thoughts, which can snowball into self-destruction. Anyone who feels down most of the day, nearly every day for weeks or months at a time may be clinically depressed. Depressed or predisposed individuals may experience one or more of the following behaviors. While suicide is often hard to predict, these potential warning signs must be addressed:

  • A lack of interest in previously pleasurable activities, possibly all activities
  • Markedly diminished interest in sex
  • Feelings of fatigue or lack of energy
  • Extreme hopelessness about the future, frequent tearfulness
  • Increased intensity and more frequent irritability and agitation
  • Difficulties with concentration or memory
  • Heightened anxiety and/or panic attacks
  • An increase or decrease in appetite, a corresponding change in weight
  • Feelings of worthlessness and self-blame or exaggerated feelings of guilt
  • A sudden change in mood or increased social isolation
  • Significant changes in appearance and hygiene
  • Giving away valued possessions, making other preparations for death
  • A change in sleep pattern: too much, too little, waking up during the night or early morning, not feeling rested the next day
  • Unrealistic ideas and worries (e.g., believing no one likes them or thinking they have a terminal illness without supporting proof)

Elevated Risk Factors

While anyone can become suicidal, certain additional factors make suicide even more likely:

  • History of attempts/harmful acts, direct or indirect talk about wanting to die, “not be around”
  • A history of depression within an extended family, possibly indicating a predisposition
  • Having a family member or friend who recently killed himself or herself; multiple suicides in the community
  • Other recent, significant losses, such as the loss of a relationship or job
  • Cultural and religious beliefs supporting suicide (e.g., belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma)
  • Alcohol and drug abuse, which can lower inhibitions and increase impulsiveness
  • Access to means of suicide (e.g., a gun, several pills)
  • Unwillingness to seek help and/or barriers to accessing mental health treatment

How You Can Help

If anyone confides in you that he or she is very depressed, is having suicidal thoughts, or you observe some of the above warning signs, please take the situation seriously. Listen in a way that shows you empathize and care. An attitude of careful optimism is appropriate. Try saying something like “I can see how hopeless you feel, but I believe things can get better” or “I hear you; I want to help.” 

You may be tempted to promise keeping what you’ve heard a secret and/or to take on the burden of supporting the person on your own. Don’t. Consider the possible consequences of failing to secure professional help. Seeking help for someone who you think is at risk of killing himself or herself is a sign of caring, even if it makes that person angry with you.

Knowing the symptoms of suicide can save a life. If you suspect a friend or loved one is contemplating suicide, encourage the person to seek professional help. Ideally, the individual should consult a doctor or mental health provider. If he or she is unwilling, suggest reaching out to a support group, crisis center or faith community.  

Helpful Information

  • Locally, dial 211 or 911
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800.273.TALK (8255)
  • #AAS365  #BeThere
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741 741
  • Dr. John’s Medical: 865.548.7684
  • CoachCarolyn.Life

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