Warning signs of suicide, and how to help

Nov 27th, 2019 | By | Category: Health & Fitness

More than 300 million people of all ages worldwide suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Unfortunately, although there are effective treatments for depression, fewer than half of those affected receive such treatments.

At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. And according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people 15 to 34 years old and the 10th-leading cause of death overall in the United States. Seniors are affected, too. The CDC reports that suicide rates for males were highest among men 75 and older as recently as 2017. That same year, seniors 65 and older accounted for 8 percent of the 47,000 suicides overall.

But depression is treatable, and proper treatments are effective. The key is recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression and/or suicidal thoughts, and getting the help that you or your loved one needs.

What does depression look like?

Depression can be challenging to identify–both for those who are experiencing it and those around them–because to an outside observer, a person experiencing depression may appear healthy.

There are two types of depression. In major depression, symptoms interfere with one’s ability to function in all areas of life (work, family, sleep, and so on). In dysthymia, a mild but long-term form of depression, the symptoms aren’t as severe but still can affect your ability to function at normal levels.

Common symptoms of depression include:

•             Agitation, restlessness, irritability.

•             Feeling sad or empty.

•             Fatigue or loss of energy.

•             Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, guilt.

•             Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities.

•             Inability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness.

•             Insomnia or hypersomnia. The latter refers to excessive daytime sleepiness.

•             Significant weight loss or gain, or decrease or increase in appetite.

•             Recurrent thoughts of death, suicide attempts or plans for completing suicide.

People experiencing depression feel some range of these symptoms almost every day.

How can you tell if someone is suicidal?

The signs of depression also serve as visible warning signs of potential suicidal thoughts. But keep warning signs in context, says David Lim, a licensed clinical social worker for Navos, a mental-health services provider. It helps if you have knowledge about a person’s past or what they’re currently dealing with. Has the person had a recent loss such as divorce or death of a loved one? Is the person unemployed? What kind of social support do they have? Have they talked about feeling hopeless?

“Even just a little bit of historical information can be helpful,” Lim says.

Another big warning sign: Pay attention if someone who has seemed depressed suddenly seems exceptionally happy, he says. Especially if they’re also being very generous and giving things away.

“A lot of times that’s something to pay attention to,” Lim says. “Suicidal ideation (forming ideas) does give relief. It serves as a way to reduce anxiety over pain.”

And the dangerous part is that the increase in mood and energy may actually help a person act on their suicidal thoughts.

“It’s deceiving,” he says. “If a person is depressed, they may not actually have any energy to take their own life. But if they do have energy, it increases the likelihood.”

How can you help?

An assessment from a trained mental health professional is an important first step. Don’t let fears or stereotypes about mental health keep you from getting treatment that could significantly improve your life.

There are local options for counseling and other mental-health services in our area, including Navos and MultiCare Behavioral Health Services.

If you have a feeling a loved one could be suicidal but they haven’t vocalized it, or they deny it when asked, you can always call the crisis hotline or text the crisis text line to ask for advice — or call the police on behalf of the person if you are worried they might hurt themselves.

“If you think someone needs help and they’re not telling you, follow it,” says Lim. “If you’re wrong, it may result in hurt feelings or anger, but if you’re not wrong, then you’re going to regret not asking for additional help.”

There are local and national resources available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a crisis:

  • Pierce County Health Crisis Line, 800-576-7764.
  • King County Crisis and Commitment, 206-461-3222.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255.
  • Crisis Text Line, 741741.
  • Crisis Clinic of the Peninsulas (including Kitsap County): 360-479-3033

Help for depression and other behavioral health concerns in Pierce County is available from MultiCare Behavioral Health at 888-445-8120 or Greater Lakes Mental Healthcare (Medicare or Medicaid only) at 253-581-7020.

Source: MultiCare Health System, a not-for-profit healthcare organization.


Fund-raising walks in Seattle, Puyallup and Bremerton were sponsored this fall by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in support of efforts to prevent suicide. The local events, which tallied a combined $243,313 in contributions, were among similar fund-raisers in 400-plus communities nationwide this year. The foundation, which is based in New York City, can be reached at afsp.org and 1-888-333-2377. AFSP doesn’t offer a crisis hotline, but does refer people who need that kind of help to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.