If you recognize that your friend or relative has a depressive disorder, a bipolar illness, or an alcohol or substance abuse problem, you can help. At some point, 41 per cent of people suffering from depression are suicidal. Most suicides occur when the person is recovering from depression, six to nine months after leaving hospital. Although people with mental illness have a ten times greater chance of committing suicide over their whole lifespan, most suicides occur in the first three years of the illness. The more likely candidates are younger, have attempted suicide before, have relatives who have attempted suicide, are single or divorced, and show a triad of symptoms: depression, hostility and apathy. Distressing agitation, panic attacks, irritability, and severe anxiety and guilt are usually present just before the act, as well as insomnia and psychotic symptoms. People in mixed bipolar states are quite vulnerable as well.
Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, coined the term anomie to describe the state of a person who is disconnected from the community and at high risk of suicide. People who have values emphasizing connectedness to the community are deterred from committing suicide. Reasons for living, such as responsibility to family, fear of social or moral disapproval, and strong spirituality, also help to deter people from committing suicide.
Ben developed an agitated depression shortly after his father had a stroke that left him speechless. Prior to his marriage, Ben and his father had been close. His father had always been his greatest fan. Since the marriage, however, there had been ongoing friction between Ben’s family and his wife’s family.
Ben was devastated but felt helpless to make amends with his father now that he was sick. He greatly exaggerated his own responsibility for causing the stroke. Even though people reassured him that his Behavior had not hurt his father, he was unable to get relief. His anxiety became intolerable, and he was hospitalized and placed on tranquilizers. One weekend he had a pass from the hospital and went to visit his parents. After he left their house, he intentionally walked into the path of an oncoming train. He was killed instantly.
Warning signs of suicide
– direct and indirect threats of suicide
– previous attempts at suicide
– family history of suicide
– feelings of depression, hopelessness
– isolation and loneliness
– agitation followed by calm, as if the person has made a decision
– giving away valued possessions
– discussion and preparation of means to commit suicide
– changing a will
– alcohol and substance abuse
– death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, legal trouble