NINE WARNING SIGNS
Depression that leads to suicide isn’t just the plight of the financially-strapped, unemployed provider of a household, the teen who’s tormented by bullies, or the retiree who’s weary of declining energy and escalating physical pain.
Just ask the friends of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.
In Spring 2018, renowned fashion designer Spade, 55, took her life in her New York apartment. Days later, they found Bourdain, 61, a celebrity chef and host of an award-winning TV show, dead from suicide in his hotel room in France.
These celebrity cases shine a bright spotlight on a significant rise in suicide rates. In 2016, nearly 45,000 people in the United States took their own lives. From 1999 to 2016, the suicide rate rose by 28%. In 2015, almost twice as many children were hospitalized for attempts at or contemplation of suicide compared to 2008. From 2010 to 2016, suicide rates rose by 70% among girls ages 10-19.
To help prevent suicide among people we know and love, it’s important to know what to look and listen for. I’ve gleaned these nine warning signs from two sources: Sarah Klein’s “8 Signs Someone is at Risk for Suicide,” and Odyssey’s “13 Signs Someone Might Be Suicidal.”
1. Diagnosis of Depression or Bi-Polar Disorder
Chronic depression, diagnosed by a professional, isn’t the only cause of suicide. An emotional overreaction to a tragic loss may trigger an impulsive decision to end one’s life, but a person with enough of a depressive pattern to receive a diagnosis is more prone to consider suicide as an alternative to the recurring pain.
2. Suicidal Talk
When someone tells you he’s thinking of harming himself or doesn’t want to live, intervene. Don’t assume he’s exaggerating how he feels. Pray with him. Don’t leave him alone. Get him help, even if it means risking the friendship. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) or ask a counselor you know for ways to assist the vulnerable person.
3. Escalation of Guilt Feelings or Anxiety
Listen for remarks about letting people down all the time or a pattern of self-condemnation for past mistakes. Be especially alert if such a verbal pattern is accompanied by increased agitation, restlessness, anxiety, or insomnia.
4. Social Isolation
Persons more vulnerable to suicide disengage from their normal spheres of relationships, cutting themselves off from typical conversations with family and friends.
5. Risky Behavior
Driving more recklessly, picking fights, imbibing more alcohol, or starting drug use may reveal less interest in living. Suicidal people simply take more risks.
6. Obtaining a Weapon
This is a red flag when combined with a couple of other symptoms I’ve listed, particularly if the person doesn’t have an apparent need for a gun. The reason men are twice as successful as women in their suicide attempts is that males are more likely to use a firearm.
7. Declining Health
Factors that prompt suicide as people age include physical limitations (more pain and fatigue), regrets over estranged relationships or unmet goals, loss of a spouse, retirement from meaningful employment, or loss of one’s home or independence. Adults ages 45-64 have the highest suicide rate (19.6%), followed closely by those over 85 (19.4%). Those most vulnerable will exhibit one or more of the other warning signs.
8. Internet Searches
People who plan their suicide attempts often research the internet for ways to kill themselves. Many families have found such a web-browsing history after a loved one took his own life.
9. Giving Away Prized Possessions
A person plotting his demise may start giving away items that have been important to him, especially those that are most expensive.
If you see yourself in any of these indicators, please don’t give up. Think of those who love you, not of the pain you’re trying to escape. Ask God to sustain you through the pain rather than model to loved ones that suicide is a valid way to escape the pain.
In one sense, dying is easy. It’s living that’s hard. Are you willing to do the hard thing for the sake of those who would be heartbroken over your passing, and for the sake of future ministry God may have for you?
Believe me, I know experientially what despair and hopelessness are like — but I also know that dawn follows the night, that sorrow doesn’t last forever, that God enables and uses a person even when He doesn’t remove all depressive episodes.
Will you preach this verse to yourself, as I’ve done scores of times? “Why are you in despair, O my soul, and why have you become disturbed within me. Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” (Psalm 42:5 NASB 1995)
*First published at penetratingthedarkness.com, June 2018.
**Warning signs are taken from two sources: Sarah Klein’s “8 Signs Someone is At Risk for Suicide” and Odyssey’s “13 Signs Someone Might Be Suicidal.”
Dr. Powell is a ministry partner who shares his struggles with depression and suicide in A Reason Not to Take My Own Life. In his chapel talk, What I’ve Seen in the Dark, he openly shares the blessings that those who live with depression may find.
Dr. Terry Powell
Author and Professor
Terry is Faculty Emeritus and an adjunct professor in Church Ministries at Columbia International University. He and his wife Dolly have been married for 50 years and share two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a grandson. Terry writes about faith and depression at Penetrating the Darkness. His latest book, Oh God, I’m Dying! How God Redeems Pain for Our Good and for His Glory tells of God's sustaining grace in the life of co-author, Dr. Mark Smith, who is an effective Christian university president despite suffering daily pain from a near-fatal accident.
Elizabeth Ruth Skoglund
Millions read the words of the great nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon without knowing that his ministry succeeded during the seasons of overwhelming emotional pain and deep depression this great man of God encountered.
Spurgeon confronted emotional problems with an acceptance based on physical, emotional, and spiritual causes and cures.