Depression and Suicide: Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Is there always a risk of suicide in depression? My spouse has struggled with depression on and off for years. She has a prescription for medication, but she doesn't always take it faithfully. Sometimes she seems so low that I begin to worry that she may harm herself in some way. Do you think I'm over-exaggerating the seriousness of the situation?

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

Not at all. As a matter of fact, your concerns are right on target. Caregivers, as well as primary care physicians and nurse practitioners, must constantly be on the lookout for signs of suicide in those who are depressed. What’s more, if such signs appear, they should be prepared to act quickly. While individuals who are absolutely determined to take their lives will not tell others because they do not want anyone to interfere with their plan, most people who kill themselves send messages of their intentions before the fact. The attentive spouse, parent, or friend is often in the best position to detect these early signs that a loved one may be contemplating suicide.

All depressed persons need to be assessed for their risk of suicide. It is better to be safe than sorry. The best way to do this is to bring the topic right out in the open. Talk about it frankly with your spouse. As part of the discussion, reassure her that thoughts of death are not uncommon when one is depressed. When people talk this way, it’s not a sign that they are crazy, nor does it necessarily mean that they are serious about it. Sometimes, just this reassurance is enough to remove the risk. This would also be a good time to emphasize the importance of staying current with medications.

If your spouse talks about or hints at specific suicide plans, consult a mental health specialist immediately. He or she will tell you what to do. Do not leave the depressed person alone at any time until you can get help.

You should also keep in mind that there is a heightened risk of suicide in cases where any of the following factors are present: prior suicide attempts; a family history of suicide; a history of substance abuse; psychosis; general or severe medical illness; advanced age; or a profound sense of helplessness or hopelessness.

It’s worth adding that older Caucasian males who live alone are at greatest risk. In fact, eighty percent of older people who kill themselves are white men, and most of them use guns. The implication should be obvious: all access to firearms should be removed from anyone who is at risk. If you cannot remove the guns, then hide the ammunition.

Older women are three times as likely as younger women to attempt suicide – usually by overdosing themselves – but they tend to be less successful than men. All medications should be removed from any older woman at risk.

You should also be on the lookout for certain specific signs that your spouse might be contemplating suicide. Watch for any noticeable change in behavior. Take special note if your spouse suddenly becomes less interested in family, friends, hobbies, or church attendance. Some suicidal persons start drinking more. Others become more secretive and withdrawn. They may also become more careless about their personal appearance. Some have been known to give things and money away, to buy a gun, or to start stockpiling pills.

Along with major changes in behavior, keep an eye out for evidence of altered feelings. Suicidal people can become more lethargic, lose their appetite, or express more anger. They’re also likely to say things such as “You’d be better off if I was dead,” “I won’t be around much longer,” or “Life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” You should also be very careful if your spouse experiences a major loss of any kind and expresses intense anger about it. When these two ingredients are combined – loss and anger – there is a very high risk of suicide occurring. Conversely, sometimes when seriously depressed individuals makes the decision to end their lives shortly they exhibit a surprising and unexplained improvement in mood. This is because they anticipate being out of their emotional pain soon. This sudden upturn in mood may seem like a wonderful thing, but should raise suspicions for loved ones and caregivers.

If you think it’s time to enlist the help of a psychologist or trained therapist, call us. Focus on the Family’s Counseling department can provide you with referrals to specialists practicing in your area. Our staff counselors would also be more than happy to discuss your concerns with you at length over the phone.

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Happiness Is a Choice: New Ways to Enhance Joy and Meaning in Your Life

New Light on Depression

When the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God – and Joy

Shining a Light on Depression

Referrals
SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

Articles
Depression

Marriage: Dealing With Depression

Adapted from the booklet “Depression: Help for Those Who Hurt” by Dr. Archibald Hart, published by Focus on the Family. Copyright ¬© 1999 Focus on the Family.

This information has been approved by the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family. The information provided here is for general informational purposes and should not be construed as medical advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional for specific questions regarding your particular situation.

Talk to a Counselor

Focus on the Family offers a one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian perspective.
Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.