Understanding Depression and Suicide; Causes, Symptoms, and Ways to Help
It is a myth that we cannot help someone who is thinking about suicide. Suicide is forever, but the depression and mental struggles that can lead up to suicide are treatable. Therefore, it is so important to get the right kind of help. Suicide is preventable.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that suicide is a leading cause of death.
Suicide has no age boundaries. The alarming facts are that suicide is the second leading cause of death in our youth (between 10 and 34 years of age). It is also the 4th leading cause of death among people 35-44, and the fifth leading cause among people 45-54 years of age.
Suicide death rates continuously increase in all populations, but in those that are between the ages of 10 and 19, statistics report an increase of up to 60% in recent years.
Depression and Suicide
Depression is strongly related to suicidal ideation (thinking about, considering, or planning suicide). While many people with depression do not commit suicide, the length and severity of any mental health problem, such as depression, substance abuse, and psychosis increase the risk factors.
Depression is a risk factor for suicide in our young, with many different elements that contribute to depression, including bullying, family dysfunction, divorce, abuse, violence, trauma, neglect, learning disabilities, and academic stress.
Depression is not always caused by external circumstances. The younger the person is when they develop depression, the more likely it is to be hereditary.
Suicide prevention includes knowing what depression looks like, and in our children and teenagers, it looks like the symptoms that adults have, but in the youngest of children, these symptoms can be more subtle.
The warning signs of depression are:
- Feeling deep sadness or hopelessness
- Lacking energy
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- Intense, chronic, or repeated bouts of anger (or other behaviors that are out of character)
- Confusion (difficulty concentrating or remembering)
- Panic or panic attacks (sudden fear or intense discomfort)
- Negative views of life or the world
- Feeling worthless
- Feeling guilt (without doing anything specifically wrong)
- Social withdrawal (from family, friends, or people in general)
- Change in appetite (increased or decreased)
- Change in sleep patterns (sleep too much or too little)
- Physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches, and body aches from tension)
Suicide Risk Factors
Nobody is immune to the risk of suicide, but there are common factors that increase the chances that a person will have suicidal thoughts:
- Previous suicide attempt(s) (including a family history of suicide or suicide attempts)
- Experiencing crises (grief, loss of a family member, friend, or a home, physical or sexual abuse)
- Family dysfunction or stress
- Access to firearms
- Mental disorders (including depression and chronic anxiety)
- Substance abuse
- Access to a gun in the home (or obsessing over guns and knives)
Children are especially vulnerable to bullying, both in-person or online (i.e., social media).
Suicide Warning Signs
The warning signs of suicide are common to the warning signs of depression.
In children and teens, however, the warning signs of suicide also include problems in school, such as falling grades, missed classes, and inappropriate behavior while in school, as well as an increase in risk-taking behavior, such as vandalism, promiscuous sex, and substance abuse.
Adults and children do not necessarily say things like, “I want to kill myself!” when they are contemplating suicide, even though this does happen. People often say:
- I shouldn’t be here.
- I have no reason to live anymore.
- I feel like a burden to everyone.
- They will be in better shape without me.
- Nobody is going to miss me.
- I don’t want to do this anymore.
- What is the point of living?
Trust your instincts. If you feel any statements are threatening to life, believe that they are. If your child, or if anyone tells you that they want to die or wish they weren’t alive, regardless of age, get help immediately. Deem what you are hearing as a call for help.
How to Respond
People often do not know what to do when they come face to face with what they believe is a suicide threat.
The most prominent misconception is that talking about suicide will lead children, or people of any age, to think about and commit suicide. This is false thinking. You may never know if your child or anyone is having suicidal thoughts if you don’t ask. If an intervention is needed to prevent suicide, you do not want to make assumptions. Instead, take it seriously. Have the talk – ask!
The following discussion guide is for people of any age, including children and teens.
- Remain calm.
- Ask direct questions. Are you thinking of suicide? Are you thinking of hurting yourself? Are you feeling sad or depressed lately? These questions show that you have empathy. It shows that you care. Do not promise that you will keep things a secret. You cannot seek help while holding to a promise of secrecy.
- Remember that having an open conversation is important. Listen attentively and do not judge.
- Repeat back what you have heard the person say. This confirms that you are listening.
- Create an open-door relationship. Ask the person to reach out to you when they feel overwhelmed, depressed, angry, or if they have thoughts of hurting themselves or giving up on life completely.
- Having thoughts of suicide does not make anyone a bad person. Say this.
- Remind the person that they are not alone with their feelings and that they can connect and share with others (a qualified professional, community help, trusted family member, etc.). If this is your child, or simply a friend, find the connection that they need and desire. Remember that relationships matter.
- If this is your child, tell them that help is available and that you will get it for them. If this is an adult, share the available options.
Call for Help
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273 -TALK (800-273-8255). Someone is always available, and you can speak to a trained crisis worker 24/7.
We have several resources here at Western Tidewater Community Services Board (WTCSB) that can help you or your child:
Emergency crisis services are available (counseling, phone consultations, admission screenings for crisis stabilization, psychiatric hospitalizations, and substance abuse inpatient treatment) through our 24-Hour Emergency Service Line, call (757) 925-2484.
We are here 24/7. We make access to professional, high-quality, wrap-around care convenient and easy – including Same Day Access for crisis intervention. Call us at (757) 758-5106 or reach out to us online here. Find local resources for help here.
Please help us in our efforts to encourage suicide awareness. September is National Suicide Awareness Month and September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day every year. Please share this article with others that may need it. Remember to openly discuss suicide prevention, by doing so you provide HOPE.