We all feel low and sad from time to time and this is perfectly normal. This does not mean that we are clinically depressed. Depression is characterized by long and deep periods of hopelessness, as well as other symptoms covered below. It is important to know the difference between feeling down and experiencing clinical depression, as depression can be severe and sometimes life-threatening. Depression becomes particularly dangerous when a depressed person starts thinking about suicide.
Signs of Depression
Someone who feels low for the majority of the day, for weeks or months on end is most likely clinically depressed (although this should always be diagnosed by a professional). A person who is suffering from depression can experience:
- Lack of energy /fatigue
- Challenges in trying to remember things, concentrate and/or make decisions
- Reduced interest in sex
- Loss of pleasure from activities that are normally enjoyed
- Hopelessness about the future
- Worthlessness including a sense of guilt and blame for things that probably aren’t their fault
- Irritability and restlessness
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Suicidal ideation
One of the reasons someone decides to take their own life is because the mental illness emanating from depression is so debilitating. Someone who is suicidal feels like death is the only way to end the issues they are facing. Unfortunately, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Many people who resort to suicide could have received help, as a person who is feeling suicidal often times will have confided in someone who could have helped him/her obtain treatment. If the risk of suicide is high, family/friends need to seek professional help and support for the person who is suffering.
Any thinking related to suicide needs to be taken seriously, whether a person is making passing comments such as ‘I wonder what it would be like if I was dead’ or displaying more active behaviors such as contemplating how to kill themselves.
How to Identify If the Possibility of Suicide Is Serious
Although it is hard to predict suicide, there are some warning signs to look out for:
- Having clinical depression or another mental illness
- Talking about not wanting to be around anymore
- A sudden negative change of mood
- Giving away valued possessions (i.e. preparing for death)
- Increased social isolation
There are specific risk factors that make suicide even more probable, such as:
- Prior attempts at suicide
- Beliefs that support suicide (like euthanasia)
- Access to a mechanism for suicide (pills, gun, etc.)
- Refused help/treatment
- Abused drugs/alcohol as these can increase impulsive behavior
Suicide is up to the individual
Suicide affects everyone in a person’s life – not just the person who dies.
If you ask someone if they are feeling suicidal, you will put the idea of suicide into their head
Asking someone about suicide will not put that idea into their head. It can actually have the opposite effect – many people who are feeling suicidal are relieved when someone asks them about it. Someone who is feeling suicidal may be feeling very lonely and struggling with these thoughts by him/herself. When you talk to someone who is feeling suicidal, this helps combat feelings of loneliness and can be the first step in seeking help/treatment.
If someone wants to kill themselves, there is nothing you can do to help
Thankfully this is not always true. Feelings related to suicide can be intense, but they can also be short term. Many people who are suicidal benefit from treatment and do recover.
If someone is talking about suicide, they will not do it
Any threat related to suicide must be taken seriously. Someone who is feeling suicidal, and is willing to talk about it, is probably looking for help – whether they are ready to admit it or not.
Helping Someone with Depression
It is important to listen thoughtfully and show that you truly care and are supportive. Try to avoid making comments such as ‘You’ve got no reason to feel suicidal, your life is great!’ and instead say things such as ‘I hear what you are saying, and I want to help you,’ or ‘I’m here for you; let’s get some professional support.’
It is always worth remembering that change can be slow, and overcoming suicidal thoughts can be hard work. It can be frustrating when you are trying to help someone who does not seem to be responding.. Remember to take care of yourself and get the support that you need too. After all, you do not want to end up feeling angry towards the person that you are trying to help, or give up on them – or worse, somehow feel responsible if they don’t respond to your help and support. You need to take care of yourself just as much (if not more) than you need to take care of them.
Try and get the person to see that suicide is never the answer, and tell them:
- The pain will end, and not last forever. Someday it will all be over, and you will feel happiness again.
- Recovery is possible and you are stronger than your thoughts.
- You are not alone; there are people who understand what you are going through and will be able to help.
When depression is severe, professional help is required. Even if symptoms do not seem very severe, professional intervention can help to prevent symptoms from worsening.
Psychotherapy is the most widely-used form of treatment and usually provides an individual with insight and awareness for ways to deal with their issues. Depression can also respond well to antidepressant medications, which are usually prescribed by a psychiatrist.
Sometimes these treatments are not the right fit. It may take a long time – several months – to find the right medication (or mix of medications) that work to alleviate the depressive symptoms. Some medications have side effects that are intolerable or may not mix with medications that the person is already taking for other conditions. Some people do not want to take medication at all for their own reasons, and some people do not metabolize medications effectively.
In these cases, the alternative treatment option is TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), which is localized non-invasive and highly effective for relieving symptoms of depression..