Is It Depression or Something More?

By Kerstin Brown –

Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Suicide 

Suicide takes the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans each year and over one million worldwide. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at least 90 percent of all people who commit suicide suffer from one or more mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or alcoholism.

Depression in particular plays a large role in suicide. The risk of suicide for those suffering from major depression is 20 times greater than that of the general population, and about two-thirds of people who commit suicide are depressed at the time of their deaths.

According to psychiatrist Dr. Kimberly Cress of the TMS Serenity Center in Sugar Land, “Over 80 percent of the patients who present in my office for initial evaluation for depression or other mental health disorders have thoughts of life not worth living. This is due to the dysfunction they are experiencing from their depression.”

Learning the warning signs of depression and suicide are huge parts of preventing a crisis. Although emotional ups and downs are normal, sometimes a person who is suicidal gives certain signs that something is wrong. Knowing these major warning signs can help you connect someone you care about to support if they need it — even if that person is yourself.

Q: What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

300-depressA: The normal ups and downs of life mean that everyone feels sad or has “the blues” from time to time. But if emptiness and despair have taken hold of your life and won’t go away, you may have depression. Depression makes it tough to function and enjoy life like you once did, and things like just getting through the day can be overwhelming.

Signs and symptoms of depression can include:

• Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
• Loss of interest in daily activities
• Appetite or weight change
• Sleep changes
• Anger or irritability
• Loss of energy
• Self-loathing
• Reckless behavior
• Trouble focusing, making decisions or remembering things
• Unexplained aches and pains

Q: Are there risk factors for suicide?

A:  Risk factors for suicide vary by age, gender and ethnic group, and these risk factors also occur in combinations. Adverse or traumatic life events in combination with other risk factors may lead to thoughts of suicide, but suicide and suicidal behavior are never normal responses to stress.

300-depress1Some common risk factors may include:

• Mental illness
• Alcoholism or drug abuse
• Previous suicide attempts
• Family history of suicide
• Terminal illness or chronic pain
• Recent loss or stressful life event
• Social isolation and loneliness
• History of trauma or abuse

Q: What are the warning signs of suicide?

A: The best way to prevent suicide is to recognize the warning signs and know how to respond. If you believe that a friend or family member is suicidal, you can play a role in suicide prevention by pointing out the alternatives, showing that you care and getting a professional involved. Be especially concerned if a person is exhibiting any of these warning signs and has attempted suicide in the past. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, between 20 and 50 percent of people who commit suicide have had a previous attempt.

Warning signs can include:

• Talking about killing or harming one’s self
• Expressing strong feelings of hopelessnessor life not worth living
• Expressing feelings of being trapped or in unbearable pain
• Loss of interest in things one cares about
• Saying things like “Everyone would be better off without me” or “I want out”
• Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
• Displaying extreme mood swings
• Changes in sleep habits (i.e. sleeping too little or too much)
• Withdrawing or isolating
• Increasing the use of alcohol and/or drugs
• Calling or visiting people to say goodbye
• Making arrangements, getting affairs in order
• Giving things away, such as prized possessions

Q:  How do I help someone who is showing warning signs of suicide?

A: Talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal thoughts and feelings can be extremely difficult. But if you’re unsure whether someone is suicidal, the best way to find out is to ask. Giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings and may prevent a suicide attempt.

Tips to Help:

Take it seriously. Remember that suicidal comments or behaviors are often cries for help, and anyone expressing suicidal feelings needs immediate attention.

Suicide prevention is not a last minute activity. Be willing to give and get help sooner rather than later. Getting help and attention as early as possible will reduce the risk of suicide.

Listen, express concern, and reassure. Let the person know you care. Letting them know that you take their situation seriously and are genuinely concerned about them    will go a long way in your effort to support them. Encourage them to share their feelings. Avoid arguments and advice giving.

Create a safety plan. Ask the person what will help keep them safe until they meet with a professional or are able to get help. If you are concerned, do not leave them alone. If you feel the situation is critical, take the person to a nearby emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Get help. Nearly all suicidal people suffer from conditions that can be treated by a mental health professional. Seeking help is an important step that can save many lives and help reduce suicides. Provide the person with resources to help the recovery process, and let them know they are not alone.

If you or someone you know are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Visit the website at for more information.  For more about suicide, suicide prevention and how to get involved, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website at