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Depression and Suicide

Most people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder, most commonly a depressive disorder or a substance abuse disorder.

Warning signs of suicidal feelings, thoughts, or behavior

Many of the warning signs of possible suicidal feelings are also symptoms of depression. Observations of the following behaviors may be helpful in identifying people who may be at risk of attempting suicide:

  • Changes in eating and sleep habits

  • Loss of interest in usual activities

  • Withdrawal from friends and family members

  • Acting out behaviors and running away

  • Alcohol and drug use

  • Neglect of personal appearance

  • Unnecessary risk taking

  • Preoccupation with death and dying

  • Increased physical complaints frequently associated with emotional distress, such as stomachaches, headaches, and fatigue

  • Loss of interest in work, school, and/or community

  • Feelings of boredom

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Feelings of wanting to die

  • Lack of response to praise

  • Indicates plans or efforts toward plans to commit suicide, including the following:

    • Verbalizes "I want to kill myself," or "I'm going to commit suicide."

    • Gives verbal hints such as "I won't be a problem much longer," or "If anything happens to me, I want you to know ...."

    • Gives away favorite possessions; throws away important belongings

    • Becomes suddenly cheerful after a period of depression

    • May express bizarre thoughts

    • Writes one or more suicide notes

Threats of suicide communicate desperation and a cry for help. Always take statements of suicidal feelings, thoughts, behaviors, or plans very seriously. Any person who expresses thoughts of suicide should be evaluated immediately.

The warning signs of suicidal feelings, thoughts, or behaviors may resemble other medical conditions or psychiatric problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.

What immediate action should be taken to prevent a suicide?

According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, the following steps should be immediately taken if someone is threatening suicide:

  • Take the person seriously.

  • Involve other people. Contact friends and family members.

  • Express concern.

  • Listen attentively.

  • Ask direct questions.

  • Acknowledge the person's feelings.

  • Offer reassurance.

  • Do not promise confidentiality.

  • If possible, do not leave the person alone.

  • Contact a mental health professional and/or call 911 immediately.

  • Keep potentially harmful objects hidden.

  • Prepare for possible hospitalization, if the health care provider advises.

Online Medical Reviewer: Nelson, Gail A., MS, APRN, BC
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 9/9/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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