Depression And Suicide: What Signs And Symptoms To Look Out For


[I originally wrote this article for Liza Brock –   Let’s Talk Mental Health.]

By Ilse Watson

After my daughter’s birth, when I was 28, I became so depressed that I couldn’t even do menial tasks. It was then that a doctor diagnosed me with clinical depression and I was prescribed the necessary medication.

But, when I reached 49 (I am now 52), I was in a very destructive relationship. My partner was a narcissist and he emotionally abused me. The constant lies, leaving me alone and going out with his friends all the time, manipulating me, endless arguments – this all led to me experiencing a type of depression I didn’t even know existed.

In January 2014 I was so desperate for help, that I decided to see a psychiatrist. The diagnosis was a big blow to me – I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type I and major depressive disorder.

The year 2015 was the worst year of my life. I was incredibly lonely, I felt so abandoned, I cried most of the time and I had constant suicidal thoughts. There was many a day when I looked at all my pills and contemplated taking them all at once. But, I believe by sheer willpower and a refusal to give up, I never tried to commit suicide.

What are the signs and symptoms of depression? Here are a few:

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
  • Loss of interest in daily activities.
  • Appetite or weight changes.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • Anger or irritability.
  • A loss of energy.
  • Self-loathing.
  • Reckless behaviour – abusing alcohol and/or drugs.

Depression is most treatable and many people get totally better, but, why then does so many people still commit suicide, even when they are on antidepressants? They feel they have no reason or will to live anymore. They don’t see a way out of their bleak circumstances.

A South African psychiatrist, Dr Mike West explains: “It is important to understand that antidepressants treat the symptoms of depression, but cannot always make a person completely better. Antidepressants are associated with a reduced risk of suicidal thinking or behaviour, but they are definitely not a cure for it.”

What are suicidal symptoms?

There are certainly warning signs that a person may be at an increased risk for suicide:

  1. Severe clinical depression.
  2. Marked loss of interest in things that a person used to care about.
  3. Frequent comments about being useless or worthless, putting financial affairs in order e.g. finalising life insurance policies and changing wills.
  4. Frequently expressing verbal intent e.g. “it would be easier for everyone if I were no longer here.”
  5. Making contact with friends and family to say “goodbye”.

That being said, these signs are not always so obvious and it is therefore important for people to be asked if they are feeling suicidal. There is a tendency to think that asking about suicide can increase the risk – this is a complete fallacy. There is no evidence whatsoever that enquiring around suicide increases risk. [Source: Dr Mike West]

How can family help?

Try to understand depression and what your relative is going through, and be compassionate instead of judgmental. Provide assistance where assistance is needed, for example going to a doctor’s appointment. Do things together but don’t force a depressed person.

Here are some things you can do if you are thinking about suicide:

  • Tell someone right away.
  • Make sure you are not alone.
  • Ask your family to lock knives, ropes, pills and guns away.
  • Call a suicide helpline immediately.

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