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Suicide and Depression

Although most people who are depressed do not kill themselves, untreated depression can increase the risk of possible suicide. It is not uncommon for depressed individuals to have thoughts about suicide whether or not they intend to act on these thoughts. Severely depressed people often do not have the energy to harm themselves, but it is when their depression lifts and they gain increased energy that they may be more likely to attempt suicide.

If you are having thoughts about harming or killing yourself, you should seek consultation with a medical or mental health professional immediately.

Suicide is considered a possible complication of depressive illness in combination with other risk factors because suicidal thoughts and behavior can be symptoms of moderate to severe depression. These symptoms typically respond to proper treatment, and usually can be avoided with early intervention for depressive illness. Any concerns about suicidal risk should always be taken seriously and evaluated by a qualified professional immediately.

Related Features
icon Articles
In Harm's Way: Suicide in America
FAQ About Suicide
Older Adults: Depression & Suicide Facts
icon Books

You Can Beat Depression: A Guide to Prevention and Recovery,
by J. Preston

What to Do When Someone You Love Is Depressed,
by M. G. Golant, Ph.D., S. K. Golant

More Books...

Statistics on Suicide

  • Up to 15% of those who are clinically depressed die by suicide.
  • In 1997, suicide was the 8th leading cause of death in the United States. 10.6 out of every 100,000 persons died by suicide. The total number of suicides was approximately 30,535.
  • In 1996 there were an estimated 500,000 suicide attempts.
  • There are an estimated 8 to 25 attempted suicides to 1 completion; the ratio is higher in women and youth and lower in men and the elderly.
  • More than four times as many men than women die by suicide. However, women report attempting suicide about twice as often as men.
  • Suicide by firearms is the most common method for both men and women, accounting for 58% of all suicides in 1997.
  • 72% percent of all suicides and 79% of all firearm suicides are committed by white men. The highest suicide rate was for white men over 85 years of age-65 per 100,000 persons.
  • Over the last several decades, the suicide rate in young people has increased dramatically. In 1997, suicide was the 3rd leading cause of death in 15 to 24 year olds-11.5 of every 100,000 persons-following unintentional injuries and homicide.
  • The suicide rate among children 10 to 14 years old was 303 deaths among 19,040,000 children in this age group.
  • For adolescents aged 15 to 19, there were 1,802 deaths among 19,068,000 adolescents. The gender ratio in this age group was 5:1 (males: females).
  • Among young people 20 to 24 years of age, there were 2,384 deaths among 17,512,000 people in this age group. The gender ratio in this age group was 7:1 (males: females).
  • The majority of suicide attempts are expressions of extreme distress that need to be addressed, and not just a harmless bid for attention. A suicidal person should not be left alone and needs immediate mental health treatment.

Risk Factors for Suicide

Suicidal behavior is complex. Some risk factors vary with age, gender and ethnic group and may even change over time. The risk factors for suicide frequently occur in combination. Research has shown that 90 percent of people who kill themselves have depression or another diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder. In addition, research has shown that alterations in neurotransmitters such as serotonin are associated with the risk for suicide. Diminished levels have been found in patients with depression, impulsive disorders, a history of violent suicide attempts, and also in postmortem brains of suicide victims.

Adverse life events in combination with other strong risk factors, such as depression may lead to suicide. However, suicide and suicidal behavior are not normal responses to the stresses experienced by most people. Many people experience one or more risk factors and are not suicidal. Risk factors for suicide include:

  • One or more diagnosable mental (e.g., major depression) or substance abuse disorders
  • Impulsivity
  • Adverse life events
  • Family history of mental or substance abuse disorder
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Prior suicide attempt
  • Firearm in the home
  • Incarceration
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, including family, peers, or in the news or fiction stories

  • The strongest risk factors for attempted suicide in adults are depression, alcohol abuse, cocaine use, and separation or divorce.
  • The strongest risk factors for attempted suicide in youth are depression, alcohol or other drug use disorder, and aggressive or disruptive behaviors.

How to Help

It is not true that if a person talks about suicide, they will not attempt it. Seriously suicidal people make such comments for a variety of reasons - it is extremely important to take these remarks seriously and help that person seek a mental health evaluation and treatment. A person in crisis may not be aware that they are in need of help or be able to seek it on their own. They may also need to be reminded that effective treatment for depression is available, and that many people can very quickly begin to experience relief from depressive symptoms.

Suicide Prevention

Studies have shown that the suicide prevention programs most likely to succeed are those with a broader focus on identification and treatment of mental illness and substance abuse, coping with stress, and controlling aggressive behaviors. All suicide prevention programs first need to be tested for efficacy and safety.

All suicide prevention programs need to be scientifically evaluated to demonstrate whether or not they work. Preventive interventions for suicide must also be complex and intensive if they are to have lasting effects over time. Recognition and appropriate treatment of mental and substance abuse disorders for particular high-risk age, gender, and cultural groups is the most promising way to prevent suicide and suicidal behavior.

Because most elderly suicide victims-70 percent-have visited their primary care physician in the month prior to their suicides, recognition and treatment of depression in the medical setting is a promising way to prevent elderly suicide. Limiting young people's access to firearms, especially in conjunction with the prevention of mental and addictive disorders, also may be beneficial avenues for prevention of suicides. Most school-based, information-only, prevention programs focused solely on suicide have not been evaluated to see if they work, and research suggests that such programs may actually increase distress in the young people who are most vulnerable. School and community prevention programs designed to address suicide and suicidal behavior as part of a broader focus on mental health, coping skills in response to stress, substance abuse, aggressive behaviors, etc., are most likely to be successful in the long run.



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