How to Spot the Warning Signs of Suicide

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Surprise at a family members suicide is not uncommon. The warning signs of suicide can be difficult for family and friends to spot, even in someone with a history of depression or other mental health problems.

Suicide and suicidal thinking is more widespread than you might think. According to the results of a government survey released in September 2009, roughly 8.3 million adults—or about 3.7% of the population age 18 and older—had “serious thoughts of suicide” in 2008.

How can you identify suicidal thinking in a loved one before its too late? There is no foolproof checklist to follow, but there are some telltale signs that should spur you to intervene and seek the help of a mental health professional.

A diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder
The symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder are the main factors that drive people to consider harming themselves. Depression is a chronic condition and it tends to recur, especially if its not treated or is only partially treated. Sometimes the people who live with a depressed person are better at spotting the signs of a relapse sooner than the person himself. Increasing isolation is often a symptom of depression, as is sadness, expressions of worthlessness, and sleeping or eating too much or too little.

“Depression is the leading illness for suicide, so the deeper the depression gets or the longer it goes on, the more discouraged the person experiencing it feels,” says Paula Clayton, MD, the medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “If you have a brief depression, say three or four months, and then get over it, I doubt youre as vulnerable as someone who has depression that lasts one or two years and despite all treatments doesnt get better.”

In people with bipolar disorder—a condition in which bouts of depression are interspersed with periods of mania—suicide most often occurs while the person is depressed rather than manic.

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Lead writer: Sarah Klein
Last Updated: March 03, 2010

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