Family Fundamentals: Know warning signs of depression, suicide

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How do you tell the difference between normal feelings of sadness and actually being depressed or suicidal? When should you seek help?

These are questions that have gotten a lot of attention in the wake of the death of Robin Williams. His suicide followed a longtime struggle with depression, and that generated much discussion in the media and online.

And that type of discussion can be helpful. According to the American Association of Suicidology, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States in 2011, and the second-leading cause of death of young people. Research indicates that mental disorders such as depression and/or substance abuse have been found in 9 out of 10 people who die by suicide, but only one-third of them (3 out of 10) received mental health services in the year before they died.

Help and treatment is available, but early detection and treatment are key. According to Mental Health America, about 70 percent of people with depression experience full remission with treatment. Knowing the symptoms of depression is a start.

Mental Health America offers a screening tool for depression on its website, If your sad or negative feelings or other symptoms persist for more than two weeks, it’s time to seek help.

In the meantime, everyone should also know the warning signs of suicide. According to, they include:

  • Talking about wanting to die.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious, agitated or reckless.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

If you know someone displaying these signs, reach out and let them know you care. Don’t act upset or shocked. Rather, go ahead and ask them, gently but directly, if they have thought about ending their life. Encourage them to talk. Remove firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt. Get help by contacting a local mental health hotline or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). If you feel the threat is imminent, call 911 and don’t leave the person alone until help arrives.

Depression and suicide are public health issues. Access to physical and mental health care can help, but everyone can take steps by helping others feel more connected to friends, family and community. The first step is to recognize the problem and find ways to help people increase their coping skills.

Family Fundamentals is a monthly column on family issues. It is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Family Fundamentals, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1044, or

Dear Subscriber: This column was reviewed by Terri Worthington, family and consumer sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension. Worthington wrote a fact sheet on Detecting the Warning Signs of Suicide in Children, available online at

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Terri Worthington
OSU Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences