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Preventing suicidal depression: How to get help for thoughts of self-harm

Depression is considered the most common mental health disorder. It’s important to understand that when people experience depression, it’s more than just feeling sad or having a bad day.

Suicide, the most serious consequence of depression, is a leading cause of death in the United States. In 2020, nearly 46,000 people died by suicide—roughly one death every 11 minutes.

These facts about suicide are sobering. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, there is help available. You don’t have to go it alone.

Know the signs and risks of depression

Signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • Lack of interest in things the person used to enjoy
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Lack of energy
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of death or self-harm, including suicide

For every suicide, there are even more people thinking about it. Over 12 million people considered suicide in 2020, and more than 1 million attempted suicide. Some of the risk factors for suicide include:

  • Suffering from an underlying mood disorder, such as major depressive disorder or schizophrenia
  • Impulsiveness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Experiencing a major physical illness
  • Financial stress
  • Loss of a significant relationship

Getting help for depression

Hope and help are available to prevent suicide, including coping strategies and problem-solving skills, social support, and access to physical and mental health resources.

It is important to know that depression, even severe depression, can be treated.

Professional treatment

Professional treatments for depression typically include psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both. Beyond professional treatment strategies, the National Institute of Mental Health recommends the following steps to help you or your loved one:

  • Learn about depression
  • Set realistic goals
  • Keep active and exercise
  • Avoid isolation
  • Find social support you trust

Social support

Creating a circle of trust is paramount for those who struggle with depression. The emotional support of a friend, loved one, or peer can make a life-saving difference during difficult moments.

Using a support network creates a better coping mechanism for all the different emotions a person can go through during a crisis. Whether in-person or virtual, support groups offer a way for people to hear and read the stories of others who feel the same way. Connecting to people through technology lets people know that they are not alone in this big and, at times, daunting world.

What to do if you’re having thoughts of self-harm

The best thing someone can do if they have thoughts of self-harm is to reach out for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) provides free, confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for anyone in crisis.

If you need support, you may also:

  • Call 911 in an emergency
  • Call your primary care physician or mental health provider
  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one
  • Reach out to someone in your faith community

If you or someone you know is in crisis or thinking about suicide, we encourage you to call 1-800-273-TALK to find resources in your area.

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About the author

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Ann Marie Warren, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and research center director for the Baylor Scott & White Trauma Research Consortium. Her clinical and research interests include the psychological impact of injury and other medical conditions.

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Preventing suicidal depression: How to get help for thoughts of self-harm