Suicide and Depression

In this Suicide and Depression article find resources and help for depression and suicidal thoughts. Depression affects people of all ages and suicidal thoughts is the most common symptom of depression. More about help and treatment for depression can be found here.

If you are considering suicide or having thoughts about suicide, please get help right now. You can simply call 911 and say, “I need help right now.”

You can also contact a family member, friend, member of the clergy, doctor or therapist, or a crisis center or hotline listed in the front of your phone book.

The National Suicide Crisis Hotline is 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Calls are confidential.

If you are simply looking for more understanding of the relationship between suicide and depression, please keep reading.

Suicide and depression are - in many cases - closely linked. A better understanding of the connections can help in knowing when to seek medical attention for oneself or others.

Causes of Suicidal Thoughts

Telling people not to rely on thoughts that suicide is the only answer is grounded in science. How so? The fact is that these thoughts often come from distorted perceptions caused by depression, other mental disorders, and altered brain chemistry. The importance of speaking to another person is to allow someone else’s perceptions help guide a person whose own thoughts may be out of kilter or distorted.

How can one’s thoughts be unreliable? This is a hard concept for many people to grasp. But the fact is that how our brains work, and therefore how our thoughts work, depends on biochemicals, and changes in the chemicals can affect our thoughts. It is, in a certain way, similar to the effects that drugs or alcohol can have on the brain, but no alcohol or illegal drugs need be involved.

Consider this: An international team of researchers published a paper in Biological Psychiatry in 2008 in which they reported their discovery that the genes in the brains of depressed people who had committed suicide had a fundamental difference from those of people who experienced sudden death from other causes, such as heart attacks. The genome in the people who committed suicide was chemically modified, such that a gene that has an important role in regulating brain activity had its activity reduced.

The fact is that depression may affect up to 12% of the population - that’s about 17.6 million Americans - but it’s estimated that as many as 66% of those people do not realize that they are depressed or are not seeking treatment. That’s 11.6 million people. And there are 32,000 suicides a year in the United States.

Recent reports from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) show that antidepressant medications - the very treatments meant to help with depression and prevent suicide - may, for unknown reasons, link to suicide in children, adolescents, and young adults up to the age of 25, an indication that we still have a lot to learn about how our brains work. At the other end of the age spectrum people aged 65 and up account for a disproportionate number of suicides.

More generally, Mind Yourself - The Lundbeck Mental Health Barometer has reported from a study done in Ireland that “frequent thoughts of death or suicide” is the most common symptom of people of all ages with depression (32%), followed by low self-esteem (29%) and difficulties with sleeping (28%). With estimates suggesting that 340 million people in the world suffer from major depressive disorder (MDD) alone, that’s a large number of people who could exhibit those symptoms. Estimates suggest that depression could be the second greatest cause of disability worldwide by 2020.

Treatments that Help

What do we know that’s useful? There are a number of different medications used for treatment of depression now, and they can be used alone, in combination with each other and/or in combination with psychotherapy. And a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2007 showed that treatment for depression leads to decreases in suicide attempts, whether the treatment is psychotherapy or medications or both. The decrease was found in teenage, young adult, and adult populations.

When people have depression that does not respond to antidepressants or counseling, there are still other options available. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is another therapy that is used with success, but it can have troubling side effects, including impaired memory. Note that it is an invasive procedure, requiring general anesthesia and seizure induction.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive procedure without such side effects, is one of the newest therapies for depression and has had success with people who were experiencing a major depressive episode (MDE), including thoughts of suicide or attempted suicide, and major depressive disorder (MDD). Because it is a new therapy, efficacy is still an issue and results have been mixed. But clinical trials are ongoing, and some studies are actively seeking participants. And TMS is being tried in combination with other therapies.


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