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PHD Depression Experts Discuss Suicide Warning Signs
10/10/2007

DALLAS — A recent nationwide survey revealed that the majority of Americans think suicide is preventable and treatable, but most people don’t know how to recognize the warning signs. Depression experts at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas say it’s important for everyone, especially those who know someone battling depression, to be able to recognize those at risk.

Warning signs for suicide include loss of appetite, inability to sleep, comments about death or suicide and feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. 

“Friends and family members can be the best way for someone to get help because they know the person best and are likely to notice behavioral changes that others might not notice,” said Dr. Don Hafer, a psychologist at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. “The better people can recognize the warning signs, the sooner we can get their loved ones the mental health needed to treat their disease and prevent them from injuring themselves.”

Each year in America almost 30,000 people die by suicide; 70 percent of those tell someone or give warning signs before taking their own lives, according to the survey by Screening for Mental Health, a nonprofit nationwide provider of mental health screening programs. The organization promotes the annual National Depression Screening Day. This year’s campaign, Stop a Suicide Today, is aimed at helping people identify the signs and symptoms of depression and suicide and educating friends and family members on what to do if a loved one is at risk.

Dr. Hafer said that while there can be differences in some behaviors of depressed people, there are basic warning signs of suicide that everyone should know. And if you think someone is contemplating hurting themselves, the best thing to do is talk to them directly.

“Don’t be afraid to ask,” Dr. Hafer said. “Don’t think that by asking you might put the idea in someone’s mind. If they’re contemplating suicide, those thoughts are already there.”

Talking with someone about suicide can be difficult, Dr. Hafer said, but it can help those who are ill get medical help, which dramatically increases long-term mental health.

“People need to remember that there are effective treatments for depression,” he said. “Through professional counseling, we can provide people with the tools to live happy, fulfilling lives. But we can’t help someone if they don’t seek help – that’s where friends and family come in.”

The warning signs of suicide, according to Dr. Hafer:

  • Talking about killing one's self
  • Always talking or thinking about death
  • Making comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless
  • Saying things like "It would be better if I wasn't here" or "I want out"
  • Depression (deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating) that gets worse
  • A sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or happy
  • Having a "death wish," tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death
  • Losing interest in things one used to care about
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Putting affairs in order, tying up lose ends, changing a will.

How to help:

  • Take it seriously (70 percent of all people who commit suicide give warning signs)
  • Be willing to listen
  • Voice your concerns. Ask what is troubling your loved one
  • Let the person know you care and understand. Reassure them that they are not alone. Ask if a suicide plan exists, and if so, how far has he or she gone in carrying it out. Help them find professional help immediately. If the person seems unwilling to accept treatment, call
    1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas at 214-345-7355.

About Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas
Established in 1966, Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas (PHD) is the flagship hospital of Presbyterian Healthcare System, a member of the faith-based, nonprofit Texas Health Resources system. U.S. News and World Report ranks PHD, a recognized clinical program leader providing technologically advanced care to patients, among the nation’s best hospitals in digestive disorders, orthopedics, and neurology and neurosurgery. The 866-bed facility has approximately 4,000 employees and an active medical staff of more than 1,000 physicians.

About Texas Health Resources
Texas Health Resources is one of the largest faith-based, nonprofit health care delivery systems in the United States and the largest in North Texas in terms of patients served. THR controls 13 affiliated hospitals and a medical research organization, and is a corporate member or partner in seven additional hospitals and surgery centers. THR’s family of hospitals includes Harris Methodist Hospitals, Arlington Memorial Hospital and Presbyterian Healthcare System. For more information about Texas Health Resources, visit http://www.texashealth.org/.

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