When Depression Leads to Suicide

Many of us don't think of depression as a life-threatening illness in the same way we do cancer, but it's important to remember that in severe cases, depression can lead to suicide. And suicide cuts across all age, gender, racial and socioeconomic lines. It's the second leading cause of death in teens and young adults, with more than 5,000 people in the age group taking their own lives every year. And a significant percentage of elderly people, particularly men, commit suicide. Many of them have been debilitated by illness as well as loneliness due to widowhood or divorce.

While suicide can be tough to predict, there are some reliable indicators of risk, according to the University of California-Santa Cruz's psychiatry department. Among them:

  • Other emotional issues are present, such as anxiety or confusion;
  • recent losses such as the death or friends or loved ones;
  • greater dependence on alcohol or illegal drugs;
  • giving away prized possessions or acquiring a gun, as these may be preparations for death;
  • a sudden lift in spirits, as this can mean the person has made peace with his or her decision to commit suicide and now sees an end to the pain;
  • previous attempts at suicide.

What You Can Do

Suicide threats should always be taken seriously. Don't be fooled into thinking that talk of suicide is merely a cry for help. It may be, but it's also an indicator that the person is considering killing himself. You need to get involved if someone confides in you that suicide is on his or her mind. It's not a purely personal decision—suicide always affects others, and others have the power to talk the person out of that decision. If you suspect that someone you care about is experiencing depression severe enough to lead to suicide, don't be shy about asking if the thought has crossed her mind. You will not put the idea in her mind. If the idea is already there, and she may already be struggling with the decision. Your interest and caring may be enough to encourage her to put it off until more help is available.

And no matter how depressed someone is, help always is available. There's no such thing as a case that's too far gone. While suicidal impulses may be intense, they can also be overcome. Listen to your friend or loved one's despair, be sensitive and nonjudgmental, and make sure you find professional help as soon as possible.