If you or someone you know has ongoing thoughts of death or suicide—or if a suicide attempt has been made—contact a doctor go to a hospital emergency room immediately or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If you or someone you know is living with depression or bipolar disorder, you understand all too well that the symptoms may include feelings of sadness and hopelessness. These feelings can also include thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Whether we have suicidal thoughts ourselves, or know a severely depressed person who does, there are ways that we can respond with strength and courage.
The most important thing to remember about suicidal thoughts is that they are symptoms of a treatable illness associated with fluctuations in the body's and brain's chemistry. They are not character flaws or signs of personal weakness, nor are they conditions that will just go away on their own. Depression and the depressive phase of bipolar disorder may cause symptoms such as the following:
Taken together, these symptoms may lead someone to consider suicide. However, with proper treatment, the majority of people do feel better and regain hope. Recovery is possible!
During severe depression, the systems that regulate emotion become disturbed. People in the middle of a severe depression often think only of things that are dark and sad. Physicians refer to this as "selective memory"—only remembering the bad times or the disappointments in life. This type of thinking is a symptom of the illness; it does not define who the person is. And with proper treatment, the individual will start to remember the good times and develop a more positive outlook. (Back to top.)
If you have begun to think of suicide, it's important to recognize these thoughts for what they are: expressions of a treatable, medical illness. Don't let embarrassment stand in the way of vital communication with your physician, family, or friends. Take immediate action and talk to somebody today. Remember, suicide is a permanent solution to a problem that is temporary.
When people don't understand the facts about suicide and depressive illnesses, they may respond in ways that can cut off communication and worsen their feelings. That's why it's important to find someone you trust and can talk with honestly and openly. It's also why your mental health professional is an important resource in helping you—and your family. (Back to top.)
Many depression-related suicides occur during someone's first three depressive episodes—before he or she learns that an episode of suicidal thinking is temporary. As people learn from experience that any given episode will eventually pass, the likelihood that they'll actually act on suicidal impulses drops sharply. It's important to have a course of action ready before thoughts of suicide occur. Some people find it helpful to develop a plan for life. This plan lists warning signs you should watch for and actions to take if you feel that you're slipping into suicidal thoughts. Here are some things you may want to include in your plan for life:
Educate those you trust about your condition before it becomes a crisis so that they can be prepared if they're called on to help. Provide key support people with your plan for life so they can act quickly, if needed. Carry a copy of your plan for life with you at all times so you can refer to it or pass it along to someone else who might be helping you in a time of crisis. With all your important phone numbers in one place, it will be easier for someone to help. (Back to top.)
With a grassroots network of more than 1,000 support groups across the country, no one with depression has to feel alone. While DBSA groups do not provide suicide crisis programs, they provide a caring environment for people to come together and discuss the challenges and successes of living with depression. They don't offer group therapy, though many groups have a professional advisor (for example, a therapist, a psychiatrist, or a psychologist), and all groups have appointed peer facilitators.
DBSA groups provide a forum for mutual understanding and self-discovery, help people stick with their treatment plans, and gain support from others who have been there. For information on DBSA support groups in your area, contact us at (800) 826-3632 or see our support group locator. (Back to top.)
There are many different medications and therapies available for the successful treatment of depression. Not all medications work the same for all people, so it may take some time for you and your doctor to develop a treatment plan that's right for you. Stick with it and recognize that your doctor is your partner in this search. (Back to top.)
Sometimes, even health care professionals have difficulty determining how close a person may be to attempting suicide. As a friend or family member, you can't know for certain either. If you sense there is a problem, ask your friend or loved one direct questions and point out behavior patterns that concern you. Remind them that you care about them and are concerned. Talking about suicide with someone will not plant the idea in his or her head. If necessary, suggest that they make appointment to see their doctor and offer to go with them if you sense they would have difficulty doing it on their own. If you believe that immediate self-harm is possible, take the person to a doctor or hospital emergency room immediately.
If someone is threatening to commit suicide, if someone has let you know they are close to acting on a suicidal impulse or if you strongly believe someone is close to a suicidal act, these steps can help you manage the crisis:
Among the many things you can do to help someone who is depressed and may be considering suicide, simply talking and listening are the most important. Do not take on the role of therapist. Often, people just need someone to listen. Although this might be difficult, there are some approaches that have worked for others.
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