Depression that leads to suicide isn’t just the plight of the financially-strapped, unemployed provider of a household, or 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.
Spade, 55, renowned fashion designer, took her life this spring in her New York apartment. Days later, they found Bourdain, 61, a celebrity chef and host of an award-winning TV show, dead from a 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 28%. In 2015, compared to 2008, almost twice as many children were hospitalized for attempts at or contemplation of suicide. Among girls ages 10-19, from 2010 to 2016, suicide rose by 70%.
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.”
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 spawn 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.
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 Depression Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or ask a counselor you know for ways to assist the vulnerable person.
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.
Persons more vulnerable to suicide disengage from their normal spheres of relationships, cutting themselves off from typical conversations with family and friends.
Driving more recklessly, picking fights, imbibing more alcohol, or starting drug use may reveal less interest in living. Suicidal people simply take more risks.
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.
Factors that prompt suicide in older 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.
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.
Giving Away Prized Possessions
A person plotting his own 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 for 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 hurt 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
*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 personal struggles with depression and suicide. A Reason Not to Take My Own Life is a thoughtful post. Additionally, in his chapel talk What I’ve Seen in the Dark he openly shares about the blessings that those who live with depression may find.
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Dr. Terry Powell
Terry is faculty Emeritus of Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina, and is author of Serve Strong: Biblical Encouragement To Sustain God’s Servants. His website penetratingthedarkness.com is an excellent resource on depression.