Knowing When Someone Needs Help

How can I recognize if I’m depressed or possibly suicidal—or if one of my friends is?
It is normal for a teen, who might be facing pressure and stress at school or from friends and family, to feel sadness, anger, or even depression. But sometimes when the sadness doesn’t go away or it turns into hopelessness—or if small problems seem too much to handle—you need to take a closer look. Depression can affect many areas of a person’s life and outlook. Intense feelings of sadness, emotional pain, or irritability may ultimately lead to suicidal thoughts.

You may have heard that people who talk about suicide won’t actually go through with it. That’s not true; in fact, it is one of the leading myths about suicide. The truth is, almost everyone who dies by suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like “You’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” or “I can’t see any way out”-no matter how casually or jokingly said-may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

What are some of the warning signs of someone at risk for suicide?

  • Preoccupation with death: talking, reading or writing about suicide or death
  • Making indirect statements about death or suicide, such as “My family would be better off without me,” or “What’s the point of living?”; conveying feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Making direct statements about death or suicide, such as “I’m going to kill myself” or “I wish I were dead”
  • Putting one’s affairs in order (e.g., visiting people to say good-bye, giving away possessions)
  • Engaging in risky behavior (e.g., purposefully putting oneself in danger, increased use of alcohol and/or drugs)
  • Neglecting one’s appearance and hygiene
  • Obtaining access to guns or other means of hurting oneself
  • Withdrawal from friends and family and/or dropping out of school, athletic or social activities
  • Major change in eating and/or sleeping habits
  • Dramatic mood changes

A specific event, stress, or crisis—like sexual abuse, bullying, break-up or a death in the family—can trigger suicidal behavior in someone who is already feeling depressed and showing the warning signs listed above.

REMEMBER: Not everyone recognizes depression when it happens to someone they know or love.
Depression can be difficult to understand. Little or no energy, a key sign of depression, is often mistaken for laziness, lack of motivation or an unwillingness to try. On top of this, depression does not always manifest as “sadness.” In teenagers, it often looks like anger or irritability. Some people believe, wrongly, that depression is just an attitude or a mood that someone can just shake off. It’s not that easy.

Sometimes, even people who are depressed don’t take their condition seriously enough. They might feel they are weak in some way, or that they are disappointing others because they are depressed. Not only is this attitude incorrect, it can be harmful if it causes people to hide their depression and avoid getting help. Occasionally, when depression causes physical symptoms (like headaches or other stress-related problems) a person may see a doctor. Though well-meaning, sometimes even a doctor may not recognize depression in a patient particularly if the physical symptoms are the primary focus.