I wrote this because I thought some people might find it helpful.
Recognizing depression and/or suicide risk
Sometimes depression can be easy to recognize for the person suffering it as well as for those around him or her. A depressed person might spend days crying, in bed, withdrawing from other people, or they could verbally express how bad they’re feeling and even talk about having a desire to die. This should be taken seriously and not disregard it as “attention seeking behaviour”.
In other cases depression is harder to recognize. Some people can be really good at masking it and they will only talk about how they feel if there’s someone they can completely trust. If you suspect someone you know is depressed but they’re hiding it, you need to show them you care and won’t judge them before they feel ready to talk to you about it.
Other people simply don’t know they’re depressed and it would never cross their minds to seek help. This is especially the case in people suffering from atypical depression, which is a subtype of depression characterized by a mood improvement when the person experiences positive events. People usually believe being depressed means feeling sad or numb all the time and if you feel good sometimes it means you’re okay, but that’s not true. If someone experiences serious and sudden mood changes they should consult a professional, especially if it goes together with suicidal thoughts. Atypical depression actually carries an increased risk of suicide.
Seeking professional help
It’s important to find someone who can offer guidance on how to control and deal with difficult emotions and thoughts (be it psychotherapy, medication or both). If the therapist and the patient don’t click or the therapy doesn’t seem to be working it’s perfectly fine to look for a different professional.
Preventing suicidal thoughts
There’s no magic formula to prevent suicidal thoughts but there are many things that can help reduce the symptoms of depression which is the cause of most of them.
- No alcohol, no drugs. No exceptions.
Not even on special occasions or when you think you’re over your depression.
You may also want to check how caffeine affects you because in some people it can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression.
If you’re already taking any of those substances you’d need to talk to your doctor to help you quit because stopping abruptly could worsen your mental state.
- Balanced diet.
Although there are many supplements being marketed as a quick fix for depression and other mental health problems, there’s not enough evidence to support those claims.
Instead of relying on expensive supplements it’s better to keep a healthy and balanced diet that promotes the correct functioning of the body and the brain.
Eat less fat and refined sugars and more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, probiotics… Try gradually adding healthy foods to your diet and removing unhealthy ones.
- Physical exercise.
Physical exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which are chemicals that help improve your mood. Since people suffering from depression are lacking those chemicals, creating an exercise habit could become one of the most powerful tools to fight negative feelings and thoughts.
- Gratitude journal.
Keeping a gratitude journal is another great way to increase positive emotions. It’s proven to be very effective and it’s very simple: you only need to grab a notebook and start writing down what you’re grateful for. You can do it every night before going to bed, reviewing what happened during the day. It will help you notice and value things that you had always taken for granted and your mind will learn how to refocus on the good things around you. Keeping a gratitude journal can literally change the way you think.
Another thing that can help you change your thinking patterns is meditation. There are many different types but most of them revolve around the idea of focusing the mind and learning to observe your thoughts from a distance, reducing or eliminating the impact they have on you.
A basic meditation practice can be done by concentrating on your breathing and counting with every exhalation. It doesn’t matter if you get distracted (it is actually expected), what’s important is to keep doing it accepting every thought and every distraction, letting them go without judging them.
While it would be better to learn how to meditate attending a course, if you can’t there are many free resources available online.
- Staying connected to others.
People with depression are prone to withdrawing from family and friends, especially emotionally speaking. This is probably one of the hardest aspects of depression and it can be very painful and frustrating for everyone.
For those close to someone with depression:
You can’t really force help on that person but you can always make sure they know you will be there for them. One thing that is important to understand is that sometimes it’s not enough with saying it once. Even if one day you tell them you care about them and they believe you (which they may not), as soon as next day they might start thinking you have probably changed your mind because you have realized how worthless they are. You need to keep showing them you really mean it.
Check on that person often, but don’t make all your conversations about their depression, unless that’s what they want to talk about. See beyond that and offer them other things to do or to talk about.
For people with depression :
Even if just the thought of spending time with others causes you an avalanche of negative thoughts and feelings, avoiding people is one of the worst things you can do. In the short term you may feel relieved to be left alone but in the long term it will only aggravate your depression.
If there are people who really put you down every time you meet them, then by all means avoid them. But stay close to those who are supportive and want to help you, even if they don’t know how. Try to be grateful for everyone who cares about you and value each of their smiles and kind gestures when they’re with you.
Sometimes you may feel you can’t enjoy doing things with them, but the more you put yourself out there the easier it will get to relax and have fun again.
You could also start a new activity where you could meet people with your same interests or join a charity where you could use your time helping others.
Whatever you do, don’t isolate yourself.
I hope all this information is not too overwhelming. Creating new habits that replace old ones is hard but not impossible, so hopefully this can be helpful for people fighting depression and suicidal thoughts.
If someone has any other ideas or experiences, please comment.