Depressions come in all flavors and degrees, the worst of which presents the threat of someone taking their own life. Suicide almost always owes its reasoning to some form of depression, though other motives – revenge, a preferred choice versus slow death by disease, or insanity – do sometimes occur. And because it is rarely a decision carried out on impulse, there are usually signs that point toward this potential outcome, signs that are often a form of calling out for help, other times a calculated strategy to initiate the process itself. Both cases present the opportunity for intervention, and if any sign of depression is present, one should be aware of the potential for escalation to a suicidal level if the condition is left untreated or unattended to.
Often those contemplating suicide aren’t shy about saying so. This may take the form of thinly veiled references or even idle threats, and should be taken seriously regardless of the context in which they were offered. The words “suicide” or “kill myself” aren’t the only yellow flags – references to not being able to continue, or simply a discussion of life termination in a casual, exploratory manner could have darker implications. The first mention of suicide signals the need for professional assistance, and family or friends should call a doctor immediately. If suicide seems immanent, call a local suicide prevention line and then summon on-site help.
Those seriously considering suicide often take steps to tie up loose ends and otherwise attend to the business aspects of ending their life. This can be accompanied by sudden abuse of alcohol or drugs, or even an unprecedented binge of dangerous or exotic adventures. Other signs include sudden withdrawal from family and friends, wild mood swings, and an unexpected and inexplicable rendering of a seemingly uncalled-for farewell. The more of these signs that show up in combinations, the more serious the threat, though any threat, no matter how thinly veiled, is cause for concern and action.
It goes without saying that suicidal people should not be left alone. Physical proximity or contact in the form of hugs and touching can be helpful, even if perceived as temporary comfort. In the long run they can reassure a depressed person of their worth and begin to bring back hope. Most of the time a threat of suicide is a cry for help, so it follows that rather than respond with disbelief or disgust, you should explore what help is required and take steps to make it happen. If you don’t, the cry for help could escalate, and the ultimate statement is something you don’t want to look back on and wish you’d responded differently. If someone seems dangerously close to taking action and help isn’t readily available, search the house for dangerous items or signs of a plan in progress. A suicidal person may not have given much though to the means of their death, and could suddenly search out the nearest available tool for this purpose, so make sure no options are available.
The most powerful tool in the prevention of suicide is the love and attention of those close by. Don’t take any threat lightly, and look beyond the context of the threat to learn the underlying cause of the depression, and then focus your love and attention there. The process of suicide can be a long and painful one, but it can be interrupted and diffused if you know what to look for.