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Mental health

Learn about mental health and about panic and anxiety disorders. Find articles on stress managment, Alzheimer's disease and more.

Grief and loss

Learn about drug treatments, psychotherapy, and strategies for living with depression.

Learn the warning signs of suicide and what to do if you are suicidal.



Why do people commit suicide?

Simply put, people commit suicide because they are ill. According to statistics, 90 percent of people who commit suicide suffer from a significant psychiatric illness. While this answer may appear to oversimplify the situation, it is nevertheless honest. Because of the stigma associated with mental illness, many people with depression or anxiety disorders choose to kill themselves rather than to seek out the help they need. Education, open discussion, and raising public awareness are all ways to help reduce this stigmatization.

Don't suicidal people just want attention?
Isn't that just their way of proving something?

Absolutely not. A suicide attempt is a cry for help. Because a suicide attempt is a sign that something is very wrong, it should never be ignored. Chronic depression can lead to feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and frustration. A suicide attempt is a depressed person's way of expressing these feelings. The majority of people who attempt or commit suicide do not want to die — they just want the pain and anguish to end. Suicide attempts should therefore always be taken seriously. Without proper intervention and treatment, a person who has attempted suicide is likely to try again.

Everyone gets depressed sometimes.
Why do you call depression an illness?

Depression is not the same as feeling blue. While it's normal to feel down sometimes—about the loss of a loved one or over the loss of a job, for instance—to consistently feel the symptoms of depression for a period of two weeks or longer may be indicative of depressive illness. Depression is an illness that must be clinically diagnosed by a doctor or a psychiatrist.

Depression and depressive illnesses are more than just being in a depressed mood. Chronic depression or depressive illness is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances occur when chemicals such as serotonin become unbalanced or disrupted. When this occurs, it impairs an individual's ability to function emotionally, mentally, and socially.

People with depression often report an inability to imagine a happy future or to see the positive in their present circumstances. Often they don't realize they are suffering from a treatable mental illness. Emotions and physical pain can seem unbearable and the challenges of daily living insurmountable. Perceptions become skewed, and a depressed person may not be able to understand the options available to help relieve his or her emotional pain. Depressed people, as we've already seen, don't want to die — they want a means to end their suffering.

Suffering from depression isn't something a person voluntarily chooses. Unlike a blue mood, depressed people can't simply "get over it". Yet, with proper treatment, depression can be managed. (See Depression for more information on the types of depressive illnesses, their causes, and their treatments.)

Why does chronic depression lead to suicidal thoughts?

There is a definite correlation between depressive illnesses and suicide: untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide. This is because depression can distort thinking, causing a person to think or behave irrationally. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can lead to suicidal thoughts. Understanding the symptoms of depression and knowing the warning signs of suicide can help people better understand that depression and depressive illnesses are treatable.

Can a suicidal person hide her feelings?

Yes. Many people suffering from depression and also those contemplating suicide can hide their feelings and appear happy to everyone around them. Yet, a suicidal person can give clues as to how desperate he or she is feeling. Be sure you know the symptoms of depression and that you understand the warning signs of suicide. Don't be afraid to ask questions and to be willing to engage the depressed person in discussions of his or her feelings.

Does a person's risk for suicide increase if she's been exposed to it?
If a family member or friend has committed suicide, will she?

Suicide does tend to run in families because suicide is linked to the genetic component of depression and depressive illnesses. A healthy person's talking about suicide or being aware of a suicide in her family or among her friends does not put her at risk for attempting suicide. It is the failure to effectively treat depressive illnesses that increase a person's risk of suicide. Not everyone with depression has suicidal thoughts.

Why are depression and suicide such "taboo" subjects?
Why don't people talk about them?

People avoid talking about depression and suicide out of fear of stigmatization. They're afraid people will label them as crazy, weak, or somehow inferior. The good thing is that society's thinking is slowly changing and that people are becoming more aware of depressive illnesses and the way these can impact an individual's well-being.

Does "talking things out" cure depression?

While a doctor should oversee any medical treatment, studies have conclusively shown that a combination of talking therapies (psychotherapy) and anti-depressant medications is the most effective means of treating depression. For some patients, cognitive behavior therapy or interpersonal therapy can considerably alleviate the symptoms of depression.

Why do some people attempt suicide when they seem to be getting better?

Quite often, a person who is severely depressed and contemplating suicide may not have enough energy to attempt it. As the depressive illness lifts and she regains energy, her feelings of hopelessness and frustration remain. Increased energy contributes to acting on suicidal thoughts and feelings. Others theorize that depressed people "give in" to their disease because they believe they can no longer fight it. Because this relieves her anxiety, a suicidal person may appear calmer in the period before a suicide attempt.

If a person is determined to kill herself, can she be stopped?

NEVER GIVE UP ON SOMEONE CONTEMPLATING SUICIDE. For a person contemplating suicide, her desire to live is overshadowed by the hopelessness of her illness. The decision to commit suicide is really a decision to stop hurting. Never give up on someone because she has made up her mind to commit suicide. Depression saps a person of her energy. Helping a person regain her perspective and the strength to aggressively fight her disease really can help reverse the trend toward suicidal ideation.


Editor's picks

Following is just one of the wonderful books on this topic available from Amazon.com. Click on the cover art to learn more.

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