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Help for those battling depression

August 12, 2014

The death of comedian/actor Robin Williams reminds us all not to be ashamed of being depressed. Williams wasn’t and spoke about his depression and drug addiction openly. And he received treatment.

Increased risk of suicide

Depression is the most prevalent mental health disorder today. The risk of suicide in people with major depression is about 20 times that of the general public. And, people who have a dependence on alcohol or drugs in addition to being depressed are at greater risk for suicide.

If left untreated, depression can lead to alcohol and substance abuse, more recurrent episodes, and higher rates of suicide.

Suicide also affects men and women differently.

"There is a dramatic difference between men’s suicide rates and women’s suicide rates. Men are more likely to die from suicide, while women are more likely to attempt suicide," said Dr. Benjamin Liptzin, chair, Department of Psychiatry, Baystate Health.

Know the signs and how to help

Since suicide is a hard subject to approach with someone, it is essential for everyone to know the signs and symptoms of suicidal behavior. Signs usually manifest in a person’s everyday behavior.

"Suicide is linked to severe depression. People who are suicidal are often sad and have a deep feeling of hopelessness, often stop eating or participating in their usual activities, and may be abusing drugs and alcohol," he said.

If you witness any of these behaviors in someone and believe they may take steps to hurt themselves, don’t ignore the warning signs, even though it is always tempting to think the best of people, or to simply try to deny what you’ve noticed.

If you decide to approach the issue, find a time to approach the person privately. Let the person know calmly what you have observed, and tell them you are concerned about their well-being.

"Listen to their response," advised Dr. Liptzin. "If the person is suicidal, they will probably be relieved—not only that you noticed, but that you cared. It is important to show a suicidal person that people care about them and their well-being."

Be honest with the person and tell them you are going to call their friend or family member. Offer to make the call openly, in front of them, so they do not have to wonder what you will be saying on the phone.

"Let them know you care by helping them seek support and medical help – that there are options such as therapy, support groups and support lines, and offer to accompany them in any positive, healthful steps they may wish to take to address their depression and possible suicidal feelings," Dr. Liptzin said.