Depression and Suicide Prevention

depressed man sitting in chair, holding his face

The suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain sparked a cascade of star-studded confessions of secret struggles with depression from celebrities like Jada Pinkett Smith, Debra Messing and Jennifer Esposito.

This is often the case when the death of a celebrity by their own hand makes headlines. The hope is to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and aid in suicide prevention.

But will it make a difference? Researchers found suicide deaths rose by 10% in the four months following Robin Williams’ death. Some theorize these were copycat deaths; that Williams’ death helped depressed people devise a plan for their own demise.

While there’s no way of knowing for sure, what is known for certain is that depression is a serious mental illness and, if not treated, comes with the real risk of suicide.

Suicide Prevention: Warning Signs 

While there’s not one profile for suicidal people, these are sometimes signs of suicide risk, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • Talking about killing themselves, which can take the form of actual suicide threats or more elusive comments like, “I’m tired of life”
  • Reckless or impulsive actions
  • Preoccupation with death: reading, writing and talking about it, watching videos or movies on death or suicide, and ruminating on death
  • Increased drug or alcohol abuse
  • Isolation from family, friends and social activities
  • Aggressive, erratic or irrational behavior
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Tying up loose ends; putting affairs in order
  • Gifting people with their possessions
  • Actions that indicate they could be preparing for suicide such as stockpiling medications or buying or borrowing firearms
  • A sense of finality in conversations, as if saying goodbye

One of the most confusing warning signs of suicide can be a sudden sense of peace or happiness. Loved ones may feel relieved that the individual seems to be getting better, but in actuality they might just be relieved and calm, knowing that their pain is coming to an end soon.

Reasons for Suicide

The reasons behind each suicide are different. People take their lives when they believe death is more appealing than living with the struggles they’re enduring. About one-half to two-thirds of people who kill themselves have a mood disorder such as depression, according to some data.

Other factors that could contribute to suicide risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), include:

Substance abuse

Alcohol and drug abuse can intensify suicidal thoughts. Studies show 33–69% of people who committed suicide had alcohol in their systems.

Chronic medical conditions

People with chronic illnesses and terminal diseases are at higher risk for suicide.

Family history of suicide

Some research shows people with family members who attempted suicide are more at risk for suicide. One study found that of 243 patients with a family history of suicide, 118 had attempted suicide.

Trauma or loss

People who’ve experienced a major loss, like that of a child, spouse, sibling or parent, are more at risk for suicide. Trauma from childhood physical or sexual abuse also puts people at greater risk for suicide.

Firearm access

Ease of access to firearms can increase suicide risk.

Gender

Though women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to be successful at suicide attempts.

Age

People younger than 24 or older than 65 or at greater risk for suicide.

Challenging circumstances

Difficulties like sleep deprivation, prolonged stress and isolation are also noted by the CDC as suicide risk factors.

Preventing Suicide: Depression Treatment

For many cases, suicide prevention starts with specialized depression treatment that helps get a handle on symptoms before people start considering suicide as the only option. In cases of major depressive disorder and especially where there are co-occurring issues like substance abuse, inpatient depression treatment may be necessary.

Depression treatment varies by the individual, but may include:

Therapy

Individual and group therapy can help people get to the root causes of their depression such as childhood trauma. Complex trauma is prevalent in people with depression. One study examined 22,559 responses to the Canadian Community Health Survey and found of people who had attempted suicide, 12.4% had been physically abused, 16.9% had been sexually abused and 7.3% saw one of their parents being abused. Therapy can also help people identify and change unhealthy thought processes and behaviors that fuel depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one approach that’s been proven particularly beneficial in depression treatment and substance abuse.

Antidepressants

As clinically appropriate, research-backed medications can help ease depression symptoms so people can be more engaged in depression treatment and self-care practices.

Alternative approaches

Complementary and non-traditional approaches to depression treatment can help support mental health. For instance, EMDR has been shown to help people address underlying trauma, which can fuel depression. A relatively new treatment, preliminary research backs ketamine therapy as benefiting treatment-resistant depression. Good self-care like exercise and proper nutrition supports positive mental health and staves off some depression symptoms. Attention to spiritual wellness such as mindfulness is also a common component of comprehensive depression treatment.

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