In our continuing efforts to raise awareness about mental health issues plaguing our society, we wanted to re-visit the topic of suicide, depression, and self-harm that we discussed earlier this year (see Suicide, Depression, and self-harm). Previously, we had focused on monitoring your own health, but this month, our focus is on the mental health of those around you. In 2017, over 47,000 Americans died by suicide, leaving behind their coaches, teachers, friends, and family to cope with the tragedy of their loss. We encourage you to learn and notice the warning signs of suicide, depression, or self-harm in those you teach, mentor, or care about.
If you notice these warning signs in someone, we encourage you to share resources, share helplines like the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-TALK), and reach out the person. One sincere conversation can truly change someone’s life.
Suicide Warning Signs
According to MentalHealth.net, An American Addiction Centers Resource, the following are worrisome changes that should be red flags to anyone who observes them:
- Having regular conversations about death or suicide including phrases like “giving up on life” or “things will be better without me”
- Sudden decreased performance in school or work
- An unusual desire for social isolation
- A decrease in self-esteem
- Unusual increased emotionality such as anger, agitation, anxiety, sadness, etc.
- Sudden decrease in emotionality such as moving from depression or anger to noticeable and uncharacteristic calm
- Uncharacteristic carelessness about personal safety
- Increased substance use/abuse
- Giving away personal items and expressing emotion they normally would not (saying “I love you” to those they normally wouldn’t for example)
Depression Warning Signs
Depression can vary in severity and visible symptoms from person to person, and sometimes, the below symptoms can simply be a part of life’s lows. However, if you notice that these symptoms don’t go away, or are severe, they could be a sign of depression:
- bleak outlook; they seem hopeless and helpless
- Loss of interest in daily activities; they don’t enjoy things that they used to
- Appetite or weight changes; they gain or lose significant weight
- Anger or irritability; they seem agitated or violent and have short tempers
- Loss of energy; they seem fatigued, sluggish, or exhausted, even after small tasks
- Reckless behavior; they engage in dangerous sports, begin or increase substance abuse, drive recklessly, or take little care for personal safety
- Concentration problems; you will notice them having trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things
How to talk to someone about depression
Starting a conversation about depression can bring up a lot of concerns for anyone, but it is so important to reach out those who are suffering. Being a compassionate listener is the goal and often, just listening and engaging with someone suffering can be an enormous help. Here are some ways to start a conversation and some tips of things to say:
“Recently, I have noticed some differences in you (your behavior) and wondered how you are doing”
“I wanted to check in with you because you have seemed pretty down lately”
“Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?”
“How can I best support you right now?”
“You are not alone. I am here for you”
“I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.”
How to support someone with suicidal thoughts
- Work with the person to plan his/her overall care and help determine how you can best help them avoid a crisis
- Keep the phone numbers of that person’s therapist, psychiatrist, healthcare providers, and friends and family who may be helpful in a crisis
- Listen to them; if they have the strength to reach out to you for help, do what you can to help them. Sometimes a listening ear is what they need to get out of a crisis; if it is more than you can handle, call their therapist or healthcare provider to be that support.
How to support someone with depression
- Lead by example; encourage your friend, family member, or student to lead a healthier, mood boosting lifestyle including eating well, avoiding alcohol and drugs, and exercising regularly
- Help the person when possible; small tasks can be hard for a depressed person to manage so offer to help when you can. This can also be helping the person to make and keep treatment appointments or helping them stay on track with any treatment prescribed
- Encourage activity, especially out in nature; invite the person to join you in fun and uplifting activities. Just 30 minutes a day outside in nature has been shown to reduce stress and improve mood, so encourage that as often as possible.
- Help the person get support; YOU do not have to be the person’s only support. Join a support group with them, or help them talk to a counselor, healthcare provider, or clergyman to allow the person to get the help they need without burning yourself out. You do not want your own health to suffer as you are caring for the person so make sure to set clear limits on what you are realistically willing and able to do. Remember, your mental health matters too. Take care of yourself before taking care of those around you.