Depression is often a gateway to suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Sometimes the signs of depression can also be signs of suicidal ideation. But that’s not always the case. In fact, you can have depression or depressive episodes with or without suicidal ideation.
So, how can you tell the difference between having nonsuicidal depression vs suicidal depression? Psych2Go explores a few signs to tell the difference.
This article is for information and educational purposes only, it is not intended to diagnose or treat anything. If you or someone you know struggles with depression or suicidal thoughts please contact a mental health professional or authorities near you. Suicide hotlines of different countries are listed at the end of this article as well.
Now, here are 6 sure signs someone is suicidal, not just depressed.
1- Hopelessness & Lack of Optimism
A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that there was a difference in symptom structures between nonsuicidal depression and suicidal depression. Two key signs they found were hopelessness and lack of optimism.
“In the general distress and anhedonic depression subscales, hopelessness and lack of optimism were associated with depression in the suicidal ideation group”, says Cleveland Clinic about the journal study, “while dissatisfaction and not feeling lively were associated with depression in the nonsuicidal ideation group”.
If you or a close one is suffering from hopelessness and lack of optimism instead of dissatisfaction and not feeling lively, this may be a sign that someone is suicidal.
2- Has Attempted Suicide Before
When you look up information on suicide you will notice that one of the main things that all experts talk about when looking for signs of suicide is that the person has attempted suicide before.
If this has happened, there is a large possibility it will happen again because now their brain is programmed to seek comfort in that and it may also happen if the person is not under any type of therapy or treatment.
3- Threatening suicide or talking about wanting to die
According to John Hopkins Medicine, threatening suicide or talking about wanting to die can take many forms such as:
- Saying, “I want to kill myself,” or “I’m going to commit suicide.”
- Giving hints like saying “I won’t be a problem much longer,” or “If anything happens to me, I want you to know ….”
- Giving away favorite possessions and throwing away important belongings
- Becoming suddenly cheerful after a period of depression
- Expressing bizarre thoughts
- Writing one or more suicide notes
There could also be an extreme obsession or fixation regarding death. In children this could take the form of talking or joking about suicide, preoccupation with death/violence; TV, movies, drawings, books, at play, music; among others according to the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) website.
4- Has attempted or has done self-harm or risky activity
Usually, when someone is depressed they have low energy which means they don’t feel good to do much like chores or going out.
But, if you or someone close to you shows signs of beginning to engage in risky activity or increasing risky activity that they already part-take in such as alcohol, drug use, unsafe sex, high places, running into traffic, self-injurious behaviors (cutting, burning), suffering from a mental illness, running away, having several accidents resulting in injury; “close calls” or “brushes with death” this could be a sign that someone is suicidal.
5- Gives prized possessions away
People usually have an emotional attachment to things that they own or purchase. This attachment means that they care about the item in some sort of way, that will prompt them to take care of it until they aren’t able to anymore.
This emotional attachment is severed when someone is suicidal since they internalize that they aren’t worthy to take care of the item or items anymore and because they know they won’t be able to take care of the item or items anymore since they won’t be here.
If you or someone close to you start giving away prized possessions suddenly or uncharacteristically, this may be a sign that someone is suicidal and not just depressed so pay close attention to it.
6- Gets affairs ready
Even in normal circumstances like in business or taxes, many people tend to struggle to get their affairs organized. When it comes to life or death insurance, is mostly the same because people are not really expecting or planning to die anytime soon. In truth, nobody really wants to. The only time someone gets their affairs in order is when they suspect or know they are going to die, for example someone with a terminal disease or older in age.
So, if you or someone you know starts getting their affairs ready, leaving everything in legal order, this may be a sign that someone is suicidal.
“The person begins to put their personal business in order”, describes Cleveland Clinic, “This might include visiting friends and family members, giving away personal possessions, making a will, and cleaning up their room or home. Often the person will search online for ways to die or buy a gun. Some people will write a note before attempting suicide.”
Other signs that are not as obvious and that could be confused with depression itself are changes in personality, appearance, sleeping, and eating patterns; experiencing trauma, life crisis, loss of interest in things they liked, pulling away from friends and family, not caring about personal appearance, boredom, etc.
Remember, not everyone who is depressed is necessarily suicidal, and not everyone shows all of the signs mentioned above. This is why it is best to ask the person to know if they are depressed or having suicidal thoughts if you suspect something. If this person is behaving erratic or has attempted to harm themselves call the authorities and get help.
You can also contact the suicide hotlines for help.
America: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Australia: 13 11 14
United Kingdom: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90
Hong Kong: +852 28 960 000
Japan/Tokyo: 81 (0) 3 5286 9090
Brazil: 55 11 31514109 or (91) 3223-0074
Germany: 0800 111 0 111
Russia: (495) 625 3101
South Africa: 0800 12 13 14
This is only a shortlist of a few countries, however, there is always somebody to reach out to. Thank you for reading, please stay safe, and reach out for help if you or someone else you know needs it.
Cleveland Clinic. (2021, June 18). Recognizing Suicide Behavior: Risk Factors, Warning Signs, What to Do. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11352-recognizing-suicidal-behavior
Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Depression and Suicide. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/depression-and-suicide
National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2019, August). Risk of Suicide | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Common-with-Mental-Illness/Risk-of-Suicide
Psychiatry Advisory. (2018, November 29). Symptom Structures Differ in Suicidal vs Nonsuicidal Depression. https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/depression-advisor/symptom-structures-differ-in-suicidal-vs-nonsuicidal-depression/
SAVE: Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. (n.d.). Suicide and Depression: Connection, Facts, and Statistics –. SAVE. https://save.org/about-suicide/mental-illness-and-suicide/depression/