Suicide and suicidal thoughts
Suicide and suicidal thoughts
Suicide is a tragic reaction to stressful life situations — and all the more tragic because suicide can be prevented. Whether you're considering suicide or know someone who feels suicidal, learn suicide warning signs and how to reach out for immediate help and professional treatment. You may save a life — your own or someone else's.
It may seem like there's no way to solve your problems and that suicide is the only way to end the pain. But you can take steps to help you stay safe — and start enjoying your life again.
Suicide warning signs or suicidal thoughts include:
Warning signs aren't always obvious, though, and they vary from person to person. Some people make their intentions clear, while others keep suicidal thoughts and feelings secret.
When to see a doctor
If you're feeling suicidal but you aren't immediately thinking of hurting yourself:
It's perfectly normal to occasionally feel sad, upset or unhappy with situations in your life. But if these feelings linger or leave you thinking about killing or harming yourself, seek medical help as soon as possible. Suicidal thinking usually doesn't get better on its own — so get help.
Suicidal thoughts have numerous causes. Most often, suicidal thoughts are the result of feeling like you can't cope when you're faced with what seems to be an overwhelming life situation. These situations could include financial problems, the death of a loved one, a relationship breakup or a debilitating illness. If you don't have hope for the future, you may mistakenly think suicide is a solution. You may experience a sort of tunnel vision, where in the middle of a crisis you believe suicide is the only way out.
There may also be a genetic link to suicide. People who complete suicide or who have suicidal thoughts or behavior are more likely to have a family history of suicide. While more research is needed to fully understand a possible genetic component, it's thought that there may be a genetic link to impulsive behavior that could lead to suicide.
Suicide risk factors include:
Murder and suicide
Starting antidepressants and increased suicide risk
However, the link between antidepressants and suicidal thinking isn't clear — and not taking an antidepressant when it's needed also increases the risk of suicide. To be safe, anyone who starts taking an antidepressant should be watched closely for signs of suicidal thinking. If you — or someone you know — has suicidal thoughts when taking an antidepressant, immediately contact your doctor or get emergency help.
Suicide and suicidal thoughts have many potential complications. The most obvious and tragic, of course, is death.
But suicide and attempted suicide exact a toll in other ways, too — both for those who want to take their own life and for their loved ones. You may be so consumed by suicidal thoughts that you can't function in your daily life, for instance. And while many suicide attempts are impulsive acts during a moment of crisis, they can leave you with permanent serious or debilitating injuries, such as organ failure or brain damage.
For those left behind after a suicide — people known as survivors of suicide — grief, anger, depression and guilt are common.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a psychiatrist. If you're in danger of committing suicide, your doctor may have you get emergency help at the hospital.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor will do a physical exam. He or she will ask you a number of questions about your mental and physical health to help determine what may be causing your suicidal thinking and to determine the best treatment.
Mental health conditions
If your doctor thinks you may have an undiagnosed mental health condition that could be causing suicidal thinking, you may need to answer further questions or fill out a psychological questionnaire. You may need to see a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental illness (psychiatrist) or other mental health provider.
Alcohol and drugs
Although drinking or using drugs may seem to help because it numbs emotional pain, it's likely to worsen depression and suicidal thinking. Substance abuse also makes you more likely to act on impulsive thoughts of suicide or behave recklessly. Many people who feel suicidal need treatment to help them stop using alcohol or drugs for their suicidal feelings to improve.
In some people, certain prescription or over-the-counter drugs can cause suicidal feelings. Your doctor will want to know about any medications you take to see whether they could be linked to your suicidal thinking.
Children and adolescents
With children and adolescents, the doctor will want to get all the information possible to determine what may be causing the problem and whether the child or adolescent is at risk of suicide.
The doctor will want to get information from as many sources as possible to get an accurate picture of what's going on. Sources can include the young person, parents or guardians, other people close to the child, school reports, and previous medical or psychiatric evaluations.
Suicide in children or adolescents often follows stressful life events. However, keep in mind that what a young person sees as serious and insurmountable may seem minor to an adult — such as problems in school or the loss of a friendship. In some cases, a child or adolescent may feel suicidal due to certain life circumstances he or she may not want to talk about. Some of these include:
Physical examinations, tests and in-depth questioning may be needed to help determine an underlying cause.
Treatments and drugs
Treatment of suicidal thoughts and behavior depends on your specific situation, including your level of suicide risk and what underlying problems may be causing your suicidal thoughts or behavior.
At the emergency room, you may need medical treatment for whatever injuries you may have caused yourself. You'll need to have someone with you at all times until it's clearly established that the immediate danger of suicide has passed. The hospital staff will make sure you don't have access to any means of harming yourself by removing any potentially dangerous items from your possession.
The doctor will ask you a number of questions and may want to examine you for any sign of injury, including recent or past signs of suicide attempts. Depending on your state of mind, you may need medications to calm you or to ease symptoms of an underlying mental illness such as depression.
After an initial exam and treatment, your doctor may decide it's safe for you to leave the hospital. However, you may need to stay at the hospital for a while if:
Your doctor may want you to stay in the hospital long enough to make sure any treatments are working, that you'll be safe when you leave and that you'll get the follow-up treatment you need.
Helping a loved one with suicidal thoughts
Lifestyle and home remedies
There's no substitute for professional help when it comes to treating suicidal thinking and preventing suicide. However, there are a few things that may reduce suicide risk. One is having a strong support network — such as family, friends or members of your church. Religious practice has also been shown to help reduce the risk of suicide.
Coping and support
Don't try to manage suicidal thoughts or behavior entirely on your own. You need professional help and support to overcome the problems linked to suicidal thinking. However, be an active participant in your care. Along with getting the professional help you need, follow these self-care steps:
There are a number of steps you need to take to keep yourself from feeling suicidal:
Last Updated: 2010-03-25
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