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Depression: Stopping the Downward Spiral

separator Depression can affect all aspects of your life, and most people would agree that it has the biggest impact when suicide is the result. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), research shows that most people who kill themselves have "a diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder or both, and that the majority have depressive illness." The NIMH also stresses that the best prevention for suicide is early recognition and treatment of depression and any other illnesses that contribute to the risk.

Who's Most at Risk?

Older white males have the highest rates of suicide. In fact, age is a significant risk factor. But people of both genders and all ages do kill themselves, so you can't really rule anybody out. In addition to depression and other mental illness, risk factors for suicide include:

  • Family history of suicide
  • An earlier suicide attempt
  • Firearm in the home
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Exposure to suicide of friend or family member (especially true for teenagers)

Suicide is one of the complications of severe depression, but it's important to remember that most people who suffer from depression do not kill themselves. The tragedy of suicide, however, is that it's highly preventable in most cases. The problem is that when people are suicidal, they've reached a point where their thinking may not be rational.

In the book Darkness Visible, the writer William Styron described suicide as something he wanted to do to kill the depression, something that would make the pain go away. The desperation he felt is clear. This feeling is common for people who have reached the point where they want to end their lives because of depression.

Take the example of Mike, a 50-year-old entrepreneur who has suffered from depression since he was in his 20s. Mike did try to kill himself in the late 1980s, but was unsuccessful. He says, "I lost everything but my life. My business, an apartment I loved, many belongings. I had become so sick that I stopped getting out of bed.

Now, Mike takes an anti-depressant daily. "I would never consider going off my medication. Ever. I truly believe it saves my life. "For me, wanting to kill myself wasn't scary at all. When you reach that point, you're so ready for everything to be over. It's easy to imagine getting in your car and driving at a hundred miles per hour on the highway into a bridge abutment. That's why I know now that I have to keep myself from reaching that point. I have to stay in treatment. I want to."

Helping a Loved One Who May be Suicidal

It's not true that people talk about suicide "just to get attention." Friends and family members should take any comments about suicide seriously. Other signs that indicate someone may be thinking of killing himself include:

  • Giving away valued belongings
  • Writing a will
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Lack of interest in the future
  • Comments such as "You'd be better off without me," or "Maybe I won't be around anymore."

If you're concerned that someone you care about is thinking about committing suicide, the worst thing to do is nothing at all. A suicidal person needs professional treatment. If your loved one does not seek treatment, you should call the therapist or family physician-immediately.

Here are some things you should NOT do if you believe someone close to you wants to commit suicide:

  • Don't accuse the person of being dramatic or lazy or trying to get attention
  • Don't tell the person to "snap out of it."

Anybody who is severely depressed is completely unable to snap out of it. A suicidal person needs to get professional treatment immediately.

National Institute of Mental Health; National Mental Health Association; A. Solomon. The Noonday Demon. Scribner, New York, New York, 2001.
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