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Knowing the Signs of Suicide … and the Misconceptions

Suicide is a public health issue that impacts everyone. For some of us, we are reminded of suicide daily. Yet, it is important to know that suicide can be prevented.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is one of the top ten causes of death in the United States. The leading reason for suicide is unmanaged depression or a mood disorder. Considering that 20 to 25 percent of Americans are affected by depression, it is important to know the signs that may help save someone’s life.

While symptoms of depression typically manifest and peak during the twenties, it is not uncommon to experience a first depressive episode later in life. Major life changing events and other unexpected tragedies can also cause helplessness and hopelessness, which can lead to suicide.

The first step in preventing suicide is recognizing when you or someone you love may be at risk of depression. Although experiences differ, possible risk factors include:

  • Sad mood most days
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities
  • Changes in appetite and weight loss
  • Low energy, lethargy, and fatigue
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Low self-esteem and worthlessness
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Slower movements and speech
  • Reoccurring thoughts about death or suicide

Unmanaged or untreated depression increases the risk of self-harm and suicide. Signs that you or a loved one may be experiencing a sense of hopelessness or helplessness:

  • Feeling desperate or stuck
  • Frequently irritable or angry
  • Sudden or rapid mood changes
  • Reckless or apathetic behavior
  • Increased drug or alcohol use
  • Poor self-care and hygiene
  • Not following a treatment plan or attending appointments
  • Lacking meaning or purpose in life
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Giving away possessions and making final plans
  • Talking about wanting to die and developing a plan

If you recognize these symptoms, it is important to understand some common misconceptions about depression. This helps you or a loved one access the treatment needed with less stigma. Depression is not:

  • Overreacting or being overly emotional
  • Something that you just “get over”
  • Laziness or a choice
  • A weakness or character flaw
  • All in your head

In no particular order, the following are possible treatment interventions for preventing the act of self-harm and suicide:

  • Establish regular care with a primary care provider or physician
  • Request a medication evaluation by a psychiatrist
  • Participate in psychotherapy with a trained behavioral health professional
  • Follow and actively participate in a treatment plan
  • Build a supportive family and social network
  • Actively maintain a sense of purpose and meaning in life
  • Keep the brain active by learning something new
  • Make time to play and move the body

It is important to communicate that suicide can be prevented. It requires involvement from family, friends, the community, and the public health system. If you recognize that you or someone you love is in distress, offer compassion, encouragement, and resources for seeking support. Attend a suicide prevention training or consider free or low-cost community workshops, including Mental Health First Aid and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental or behavioral health emergency, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255. You can also dial 911 and request a “behavioral health welfare check” or go to the local hospital’s emergency department.

Betsy Glass, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker at Barton Behavioral Health. She provides counseling and therapeutic services for patients experiencing mild to moderate mental or behavioral health issues. Find more support and resources in Barton’s Health and Wellness Directory at bartonhealth.org/wellnessdirectory.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Throughout the month, Barton Health has partnered with local behavioral health providers and experts to share research and insight on suicide, a topic that can be hard to discuss.