When Depression Becomes Dangerous
Depression is the leading cause of disability for people ages 15 to 44 in the United States – and the holiday season makes it worse. While everyone seems to be eating, drinking and being merry, those who have depression may suffer from feelings of isolation and sadness. Add it all together, and it's no wonder suicide is more common this time of year.
Learn which warning signs indicate depression is becoming dangerous, and what to do if you're concerned about a loved one.
Most people have bouts of sadness, isolation or hopelessness that come and go based on circumstances. Called situational depression, such bouts with the blues are a normal response to losses in life like the death, divorce or losing a job.
"If you know why you're depressed – there's a reason behind it – then it's probably situational depression," says Jean Lubeckis, LMHC, LCPC, a therapist with the Franciscan Health Employee Assistance Program. "But if everything in your life is fine, and you can't think of anything that's causing you to be depressed, then you may be suffering from major depression."
Major depression zaps your energy and will to engage in daily life. Symptoms may include:
- A desire to stay in bed all day
- Not attending to routine activities like bathing, paying bills and making meals
- Feelings of worthlessness and/or hopelessness
- Decreased appetite
- Lack of interest in your usual activities
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Feeling a lack of energy to do anything, even minor tasks
"People who have major depression have to force themselves to do things. They may be able to get themselves to work, but then they won't be able to do anything else. They might spend the entire weekend in bed, sometimes without bathing or eating," reports Lubeckis.
Depression During the Holidays
The increased pressure to be happy while surrounded by friends and family may put those with major depression at an increased risk of suicide during the bustling holiday season.
"People with depression already feel isolated, and during the holidays they can feel even more abandoned, lost or sad," notes Lubeckis. "This time of year amplifies any loneliness people already feel."
While being alone can deepen depression, the stress of socializing can also contribute to negative feelings. Since depressed people don't have much energy to start, the extra activities that feel obligatory (think: gift shopping, hosting parties, family gatherings, work events) can be all too overwhelming.
Suicide Risk Factors
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States – and the primary cause of suicide is depression. In addition to depression, the following factors may also be at play when someone tries to take their own life:
- Concurrent mental illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Family history of suicide or violence
- Chronic illness or pain
How to Help
"If you notice behavioral changes in someone you care about, don't be afraid to have a talk about these changes with your loved one," says Lubeckis. "In a loving, non-judgmental way, address what you've noticed using 'I' statements. You don't just want to say, 'You seem depressed.'" Instead, state what you’ve noticed, such as:
- I've noticed that you seem sad lately.
- I've noticed that you haven’t been joining us for happy hour.
- I noticed you're not eating much.
During the conversation, you want to encourage your loved one to get help. You could say things like, "Have you been to the doctor lately?" or "Do you think about going to talk to somebody?" You could even offer to go to the doctor with your loved one. Since some people are resistant to visiting a psychiatrist, you can also encourage your loved one to see their general practitioner who can provide an initial evaluation.
Suicide Warning Signs
During this conversation with your loved one, it's crucial you ask about suicidal thoughts, says Lubeckis. "If you care about someone, you need to have the courage to ask, 'Do you ever think about suicide?'"
If the answer to that question is "yes," the next hard question is: "Do you have a plan?" If your loved one has both a plan on how to commit suicide, and the means to do it (e.g. firearm, prescription medications), it's your duty to act quickly, says Lubeckis.
Drive your loved one to the emergency room where a professional can assess his/her condition. "If your loved one won't willingly go, call 911. The EMTs are trained to go through a suicide assessment. It's really hard to do that, but you don’t want to ignore the signs and live to regret it," says Lubeckis
If your loved one doesn't admit to suicidal thoughts, signs like reckless behavior, getting affairs in order or saying long, drawn-out, or especially heart-felt goodbyes, can be red flags, too.
Resources for Support
If you or someone you love has persistent feelings of depression, make an appointment to talk with our behavioral health specialists.
If the situation becomes more severe, we also offer medical interventions in our intensive outpatient program and our hospitalized inpatient program. If it's a crisis, please visit a Franciscan Health hospital or your nearest emergency room. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.
For additional information, resources and support groups, you can visit the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.