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Suicide Warning Signs

One of the most tragic potential consequences of depression is suicide. According to 2008 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 36,000 successful suicides were reported in the U.S. Those numbers made suicide one of the top 10 causes of death in America. Additionally, every year almost one million people try to kill themselves. [1]

Not everyone who contemplates, attempts, or commits suicide is depressed or has a mental illness. However, the vast majority who succeed do have a psychiatric disorder of some kind.

Although a suicide attempt often takes the person’s friends, coworkers, classmates, and loved ones by surprise, there are almost always warning signs – if you know what to look for. While some people do make an impulsive decision to end their life, most have been thinking about it for quite some time – weeks, months, even years – before actually taking action.

Following are the most frequent warning signs for suicide:

Preoccupation with death and dying. People who are contemplating suicide have death on their mind quite frequently – if not all the time. They may talk about what happens when one dies, what it feels like, and so on.

Making statements or threats about ending one’s life or committing suicide. While some people may use these types of statements to get attention or manipulate others, they should always be taken seriously – especially if the person has a history of suicide attempts.

Calling, emailing, writing, or visiting people in person to say goodbye. Many people want to have the opportunity to say goodbye to friends and loved ones before ending their life.

Feelings of hopelessness. One of the primary triggers for suicide is loss of hope. It’s extremely difficult to keep moving forward in life when the future looks entirely bleak and there’s nothing left to live for. Expressing these feelings of despair is often a cry for help.

Feelings of worthlessness; perceiving oneself as a burden to others. Deeply painful feelings of worthlessness often go hand in hand with depression. When people feel worthless, it’s impossible to believe their life is of any value to anyone. That type of thinking leads to the conclusion that they’ve become a burden to friends and loved ones; suicide often seems to be the only solution.

Reckless behavior that suggests a “death wish”. People who are suicidal often take huge risks that could result in death, such as driving at high speeds or tempting fate at a railroad crossing when a train is coming.

Severe depression that is getting worse. Suicide ideation often increases when depression gets worse.

Sudden upbeat or unusually calm demeanor after being very sad. When someone who has been severely depressed suddenly appears to feel happy or calm, it may be because they’ve decided to end their life. This decision often brings relief and a sense of peace.

Spending time putting affairs in order. For example, they may suddenly have their will drawn up or changed.

Feeling trapped or stuck. Someone who wants to die may make statements like “I want out” or “I can’t keep doing this”.

Giving away their most prized possessions, sentimental belongings, and other valuables.

No longer caring about things that were once important to them. Apathy often accompanies depression. People who are depressed and suicidal often stop caring about everything such as school, work, hobbies, and even relationships.

Making comments like “the world would be a better place if I was gone”. People who are considering suicide often believe that everyone would be better off without them.

Increased drug or alcohol use, or a change in the type of substance normally used.

Each of the above is a potential warning sign that someone is seriously considering suicide. Always take these warning signs seriously, even if you think the behavior is attention-seeking or manipulative in nature. Some suicide attempts aren’t meant to succeed, but result in death accidentally nonetheless.

If someone you know is exhibiting warning signs for suicide, call 911, a local suicide hotline, or the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. Never assume that someone is above suicide. Everyone has a breaking point. Your intervention may be the one that saves his or her life.

[1] http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?page_id=04ea1254-bd31-1fa3-c549d77e6ca6aa37