Warning signs of suicide and how to help
By MultiCare Health System
More than 300 million people of all ages worldwide suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Unfortunately, although there are effective treatments for depression, fewer than half of those affected receive such treatments.
At its worst, depression can lead to suicide, says the WHO.
And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15–34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States.
But depression is treatable, and proper treatments are effective. The key is recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression and/or suicidal thoughts and getting the help that you or your loved one needs.
What does depression look like?
Depression can be challenging to identify, both for those who are experiencing it, and those around them, because to an outside observer, a person experiencing depression may appear healthy.
There are two types of depression. In major depression, depression symptoms interfere with one’s ability to function in all areas of life (work, family, sleep and so on). In dysthymia, a mild but long-term form of depression, the symptoms are not as severe but still can affect your ability to function at normal levels.
Common symptoms of depression include:
- agitation, restlessness, irritability
- depressed mood (feeling sad or empty)
- fatigue or loss of energy
- feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, guilt
- lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- inability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
- insomnia or hypersomnia
- significant weight loss or gain, or decrease or increase in appetite
- recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation, suicide attempt or plan for completing suicide
People experiencing depression feel some range of these symptoms almost every day.
How can you tell if someone is suicidal?
The signs of depression also serve as visible warning signs of potential suicidal thoughts.
But keep warning signs in context, says David Lim, licensed clinical social worker for Navos. It helps if you have knowledge about a person’s past or what they’re currently dealing with.
Has the person had a recent loss such as divorce or death of a loved one? Is the person unemployed? What kind of social support do they have? Have they talked about feeling hopeless?
“Even just a little bit of historical information can be helpful,” Lim says.
Another big warning sign: Pay attention if someone who has seemed depressed suddenly seems exceptionally happy, he says. Especially if they’re also being very generous and giving things away.
“A lot of times that’s something to pay attention to,” Lim says. “Suicidal ideation does give relief. It serves as a way to reduce anxiety over pain.”
And the dangerous part is that the increase in mood and energy may actually help a person act on their suicidal thoughts.
“It’s deceiving,” he says. “If a person is depressed, they may not actually have any energy to take their own life. But if they do have energy, it increases the likelihood.”
How can you help?
If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms like those above, an assessment from a trained mental health professional is an important first step. Don’t let fears or stereotypes about mental health keep you from getting treatment that could significantly improve your life.
If you have a feeling a loved one could be suicidal but they haven’t vocalized it, or they deny it when asked, you can always call the crisis hotline or text the crisis text line to ask for advice – or call the police on behalf of the person if you are worried they might hurt themselves.
“If you think someone needs help and they’re not telling you, follow it,” says Lim. “If you’re wrong, it may result in hurt feelings or anger, but if you’re not wrong, then you’re going to regret not asking for additional help.”
There are both local and national resources available to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a crisis:
- Pierce County Health Crisis Line: 1 (800) 576-7764
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line: 741741
To get help for depression and other behavioral health concerns in Pierce County, contact MultiCare Behavioral Health at 1 (888) 445-8120 or Greater Lakes Mental Healthcare (Medicare or Medicaid only) at (253) 581-7020.
MultiCare Health System is a not-for-profit health care organization with more than 18,000 employees, providers and volunteers.