Depression is an ugly disease. It lies to the people suffering from it. It tells them they’re worthless, helpless or burdensome.
Even worse, there’s often a stigma attached to depression which makes people ashamed to admit when they’re struggling with it.
No one would ever tell someone who has the flu, or has developed cancer, that his or her illness isn’t real. Or that they should just “get over it.” And yet when a person is depressed it’s not uncommon to hear these exact things.
The good news is that’s finally starting to change. More people are beginning to understand that depression is a common, and sometimes life threatening, medical condition. And just like any other illness, it needs to be treated.
The problem is depression is often an invisible condition. It flies under the radar and can sneak up on you, or a loved one, without you ever seeing it coming.
If left untreated, depression can sometimes lead to thoughts of suicide, and worse. And despite the often repeated myth that reaching your senior years somehow makes you immune to these emotions no one is exempt.
In fact, seniors may even be more at risk than younger folks are. According to the University of Florida while people over the age of 65 make up just 13 percent of the population, that age group accounts for 20 percent of suicides. And that doesn’t include unsuccessful attempts.
How to spot potential signs of suicide
But as sneaky as depression and signs of suicide can be, experts say there are often some subtle warning signs. And when we know what to look for we may be able to spot a problem and get a loved one the help they need before tragedy strikes.
Following are five warning signs of suicidal thinking you should be aware of…
1. Talking about suicide:
Often talking about suicide isn’t as blunt as saying you’re going to kill yourself. Listen for phrases like “I don’t see the point in living anymore.” Or “I just feel so useless (alone or unimportant) these days.” Or “You don’t have to worry about me, I won’t be around.”
2. A serious, painful loss:
The death of a spouse, a roommate, best friend, or even beloved pet can be a triggering event.
3. Giving away belongings:
If someone, you care about starts giving away things—especially ones of value such as a watch, a TV, or a favorite book—this can be a sign of suicidal thinking.
4. Loss of purpose:
If someone has had a recent life transition that has left them feeling as if they no longer have a purpose, or are no longer independent, this can put them at greater risk.
5. Preparing for death:
It’s natural to get your affairs in order as you age, but if updating a will is accompanied by any of these other signs, it could be more than just taking care of business.
And one of these signs alone could be concerning. But if you find a loved one is experiencing more than one of them take it seriously.
If you suspect a friend may be suicidal, call someone for help right away. And the National Suicide Prevention hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 1-800-273-8255 for you and your loved one if you are seeing signs of suicide.
How to help a depressed friend
If you suspect a loved one is depressed there are some things you can do to help. As well as a few things, you should avoid.
tell him or her they’re being silly, or that they’re stronger than this. Minimizing what he or she is going through is only going to make them stop talking to you. And it won’t keep them from hurting themselves.
tell him or her you recognize they’re going through a rough time and if they want to talk, you’re willing to listen without judging them.
try to talk him or her out of it by telling them it will get better or that they have so much to live for. While this seems like this is being supportive, you could end up making them feel guilty or like a burden.
try to interact with him or her more often. Include them in activities, invite them to share meals with you, call them regularly. Knowing you love them and care about them may make it easier to open up about what he or she is going through. And sometimes, a meaningful friendship can be the difference between wanting to live and wanting to die.
be afraid to ask him or her if they’re considering harming themselves. People are often afraid to bring it up because they don’t want to “give him the idea,” or because they wouldn’t know what to do if the answer is yes. If you’re concerned, it’s important to ask.
be there for him or her. Assure them that depression and suicidal thoughts are treatable. Help him or her find the help they need. Offer to tag along to the doctor, look up the number for a therapist, or even sit with him or her while they call a helpline.
And don’t feel like you have to go it alone. If you don’t know what to do or say, there are people who can help you, too. Don’t forget, the National Suicide Prevention hotline is always available at 1-800-273-8255.
And remember, if someone you love dies from suicide, it’s not your fault. You didn’t fail him or her. Call the hotline yourself for support if you need it. The volunteer you talk to has been there, too, and can help you navigate this difficult time.