Depression & Suicide

Everyone feels down at times. The breakup of a relationship or a bad grade can lead to low mood. Sometimes sadness comes on for no apparent reason. Is there any difference between these shifting moods and what is called depression? Anyone who has experienced an episode of depression would probably answer yes. Depression, versus ordinary unhappiness, is characterized by longer and deeper feelings of despondency and the presence of certain characteristic symptoms (see below). This distinction is important, because in severe cases, depression can be life threatening, with suicide as a possible outcome. Depressed people may also fail to live up to their potential, doing poorly in school and staying on the social margins. Depression is frequently ignored or untreated; the condition often prevents people from taking steps to help themselves. This is unfortunate, as effective help is available. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people. A major cause of suicide is mental illness, very commonly depression. People feeling suicidal are overwhelmed by painful emotions and see death as the only way out, losing sight of the fact that suicide is a permanent “solution” to a temporary state—most people who try to kill themselves but live later say they are glad they didn’t die. Most people who die by suicide could have been helped. An individual considering suicide frequently confides in a friend, who may be able to convince them to seek treatment. When the risk is high, concerned friends and relatives should seek professional guidance. Suicidal thoughts may be fleeting or more frequent, passive (e.g., “What if I were dead?”) or active (e.g., thinking of ways to kill oneself, making a plan). Preparations for death, such as giving away possessions or acquiring a gun, are cause for great concern. A sudden lift in spirits in a depresed person can be a warning sign that they are planning to kill themselves. Any level of suicidal thinking should be taken seriously.

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