Suicidal Depression: What Is It, Causes & How To Help 2023

Jennifer Olejarz

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

suicidal depression

It’s estimated that about 90%[1] of people who commit suicide suffer from a mental disorder. With the dramatically increasing rates[2] of mental illnesses worldwide, there’s no denying that effective and accessible treatment plans are urgently needed to prevent suicide. 

There are many forms of depression, and while most involve similar symptoms, many depressed people do not necessarily have suicidal ideation. With suicidal depression, however, thoughts of suicide are common symptoms. 

Read on to find out the causes, suicide warning signs, and ways to help someone struggling.

What Is Suicidal Depression?

While not a clinical diagnosis, suicidal depression is a term used to describe someone with depression at risk of committing suicide. It classifies as a major depressive disorder (MDD) “with suicidal thoughts.” 

Fortunately, many depressed people with suicide ideation do not commit suicide, but it is a group with a higher risk. Those with thoughts of suicide should be given extra social and professional support, with regular follow-ups to ensure symptoms aren’t worsening. 

Does Depression Cause Suicidal Thoughts?

Depression greatly increases the risk[3] of suicidal thoughts. Suicidal ideation and depression should never be ignored. If you have thoughts of suicide or notice anyone talking or joking about suicide, call or chat online with the suicide and crisis lifeline at 988 or text HOME to 741741

Suicidal Signs Of Depression

Suicide ideation can be a symptom of major depression, along with others such as

  • Feelings of despair and hopelessness.
  • Lack of interest in usual activities.
  • Intense sadness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Restlessness.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns.
  • Unexplained weight or appetite changes.
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.

It’s important to note that suicidal thoughts without depression can occur. It’s common across various mental health conditions, such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or substance use disorders. 

Subtle Signs Of Suicidal Ideation

It’s not always easy to tell when someone is at serious risk of suicide, especially if they’re masking any symptoms of depression or mental illness. While some people may voice their thoughts, others may hide their ideation and only leave subtle clues, such as

  • Withdrawing from close friends, family members, or social interactions.
  • Expressing hopelessness or having no reason to go on living.
  • Increased aggression, mood swings, anxiety, anger, or agitated behavior.
  • Taking greater risks.
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol.
  • Purchasing or hiding a weapon or pills.
  • Writing, joking, planning, or talking about death.
  • Indirectly saying goodbye to friends or family.
  • Giving away personal items or speaking about who items should go to in case of death.

These warning signs should be given immediate professional attention to avoid the risk of worsening symptoms and suicide. 

What Causes Suicidal Depression?

A combination of different biological and environmental factors[4] can lead to suicidal depression, such as

  • Mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar, or eating disorders.
  • Brain chemistry abnormalities (i.e., developing brains[5] in youth, altered neurotransmitter function[6] in adults).
  • Traumatic history (violent, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse).
  • Adverse childhood experiences.
  • Chronic illness or pain (diabetes, heart or kidney disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS).
  • Hormonal fluctuations (postpartum depression, puberty).
  • Death, loss of a loved one, sudden stressors.
  • Substance use disorder.
  • Guns or firearms in the home.
  • Little social or financial support (recently released from prison, poverty, etc.).
  • Family history of depression, substance abuse, or suicide.
  • Exposure to others’ suicidal behavior (family members, friends, celebrities).

These risk factors can all make someone more likely to develop suicidal depression. 

Groups At Higher Risk

Certain populations have an increased risk of suicide due to the difficulties they may face. Groups at higher risk of suicide include:

Youth

Rates of suicide and depression are continuously rising for youth, with exceptionally high rates and risk from the age of 10-25. At any given moment, 2 in 10[7] high school students seriously consider suicide. It’s the second leading cause of death[4] for youth due to their unique social challenges and biological changes. Consequently, warning signs require immediate attention.

The Elderly

As many as 48.7[8] out of every 100,000 older white men in the U.S. commits suicide. Men older than 80 years of age[9] are at an exceptionally high risk of committing suicide. This increased risk may be due to many common age-related factors, such as the loss of a loved one, chronic pain, decreased physical health or independence, loneliness, loss of meaning in life, a mood disorder, or illness. 

Minorities

Certain groups of minorities[10] are at higher suicide risk, such as

  • LGBTQIA+[11], the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual orientations. 
  • Those who experience racism.
  • American Indians/Alaska Natives.
  • Members of the Armed Forces and veterans.
  • Immigrants (from stressors such as loss of social network, language barriers, separation, lack of information regarding the healthcare system, worrying about family back home, etc.).

These at-risk groups require affordable and easily accessible access to mental health care and support groups, making the need for easily available government-funded treatment crucial. 

Treatment

Various treatment methods can work together to help alleviate symptoms of suicidal depression, including

Talk Therapy

suicidal depression

Psychotherapy is an essential part of every treatment plan for those suffering from mental disorders. Depending on the issues at hand, there are many different types of therapy to use in suicide prevention[12], such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, also known as DBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, commonly called CBT.

CBT can help people learn the tools they need to calm themselves when in suicidal mode, and DBT can teach skills to help those struggling to regulate and tolerate their emotions. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy-suicide prevention is another specific type of treatment for adolescents or adults who recently attempted suicide or have chronic suicidal thoughts. This type of therapy can reduce the risk of suicide and work to decrease symptoms of depression overall. 

Support Groups

suicidal depression

Often overlooked, support groups, are a free or extremely affordable option for trained online or in-person support. There are support groups in different languages and locations, some specifically for certain groups, such as LGBTQIA+, veterans, PTSD, postpartum, etc. 

Many are nonprofit, such as the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and offer 24/7 support with a trained volunteer or mental health professional. Weekly meetings are also available with certain organizations, like the National Alliance on Mental Illness

Self-Care

suicidal depression

Along with professional treatment, prioritizing acts of self-care can go a long way toward reducing symptoms of depression, including

  • Regular sleep.
  • Enjoyable exercise.
  • Eating mostly nutrient-dense foods.
  • Practicing stress-reducing activities (journaling, time in nature[13], meditation, etc.).
  • Prioritizing quality time with others and increasing social support.
  • Getting a physical exam to rule out any illnesses.
  • Talk to a registered dietitian about any potential nutritional deficiencies and set up a balanced diet to meet all your nutritional needs and lifestyle goals.

Prevention

suicidal depression

Part of the treatment plan may be trying to avoid what triggers depressive or suicidal thoughts, such as 

  • Isolating yourself.
  • Certain social media accounts.
  • Spending time with people who are depressed, suicidal, alcoholic, or substance abusers.
  • Leaving alcohol or drugs around/spending time with people who have easy access to abusable drugs or situations (i.e., gambling).

Medication

suicidal depression

After a visit with a doctor and registered dietitian to rule out any other illnesses or nutritional deficiencies that can lead to depression, you may be referred to a psychiatrist to evaluate if medication would be a good fit. 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are one of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants[14]. Others, such as tricyclic antidepressants and serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs, are also popular. 

After beginning medication, it’s extremely important to watch how symptoms develop over the next few weeks and months. Many have side effects that can lead to increased suicide ideation[15], the very thing sufferers want help from. Friends, family, and a therapist or psychiatrist should keep a heightened watch since the risk is highest after beginning medication. 

How To Help Someone With Suicidal Thoughts?

Look out for the warning signs of suicide ideation or depression, and don’t hesitate to offer help. Here are some specific tips to keep in mind: 

  • Ask them how they’re feeling or if they’re considering suicide. Listen calmly, validate their emotions and personal experience, and express understanding and empathy without judgment. 
  • Encourage them to try support groups or therapy and offer financial help (or help them find financial resources) to afford any services. 
  • Leave a list of people and services they can contact whenever they need, such as
    • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
    • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration National Helpline at 800-662-4357
  • Stay with them if you sense an immediate risk and call 911 or 988 (the suicide and crisis lifeline) or text HOME to 741741 and wait until a professional arrives or take them to the hospital emergency room for immediate help.
  • Check for any weapons, pills, or other potentially dangerous objects that you could try to remove. 
  • If someone lets you know they’re considering suicide and they’re alone, ask them where they are and call 911 to send a support team if you can’t make it in time. 
  • Finally, make sure to follow up and check on them often. The few days and weeks following a crisis can be particularly difficult, and extra support during this time might help save a life.

The Bottom Line

Suicidal depression is characterized by increased thoughts of suicide, putting those suffering at a higher risk of death. Any warning signs, such as increased use of alcohol, social withdrawal, and extreme mood swings, should not be ignored. 

People suffering from depression may also hide many of their symptoms, making it all the more important to offer social support and encourage professional treatment and support groups with any subtle signs, like joking about death and suicide.

With proper treatment, people suffering from suicidal depression can improve their symptoms and recover. Now more than ever, we must speak openly about it to end the stigma of mental disorders and lower the growing rates of suicide and mental suffering. 


+ 15 sources

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Jennifer Olejarz

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Jennifer Olejarz is a Certified Nutritionist and Health Counselor specializing in binge and emotional eating, stress management, and mental health. She has almost a decade's worth of experience in the health and wellness field writing health articles, guides, and books, along with creating health and nutrition courses. She works one-to-one with private clients to build healthier lifestyle habits and end the lifelong battle of food guilt and diet frustrations. She has degrees in both Psychology and Nutrition from Western University, Canada.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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