Major Depression and the Risk of Suicide: Keeping Your Adult Child Safe
Helping an adult child with depression can be particularly different. As adults, they still need support, so don’t hesitate to reach out and offer help. Doing so can be a huge factor in preventing suicide. Know the signs of depression and suicide, and offer your adult child support, treatment options, and be someone they can talk to about their feelings without judgment. Protecting a child doesn’t have to end with their adulthood. Suicide is a real risk with depression, so don’t hesitate to act.
Suicide is a real and dangerous complication of depression. Not everyone with depression will be suicidal, and not everyone suicidal has been diagnosed with depression, but there is a definite connection. Understanding the link, and knowing how to help someone with suicidal thoughts, saves lives.
Helping an adult child presents particular challenges. You may not want to overstep boundaries or be too overbearing. When it comes to suicide, hesitation is a mistake. Address your concerns, offer help, and be there for an adult child struggling with depression.
It’s not a stretch to understand that depression can lead to suicide, but the connection is not absolute. There are often additional factors that, along with depression, increase the risk of suicide: family history of suicide, a stressful life event, substance abuse, and other mental illnesses with more severe symptoms.
Suicide regularly ranks among the top 10 causes of death in the United States. Women attempt suicide more often than men, but men more often complete suicide because they use more lethal means. According to statistics, the lifetime risk of suicide is 20 percent in people with untreated depression. This means that getting professional treatment for depression is essential in preventing suicide.
What Does Depression Look Like?
One of the most important factors in keeping your adult child safe from suicide is an understanding of the signs and symptoms of depression. If you can reach out and offer them help during a struggle with depression, you remove a lot of the risk. Awareness and getting professional help early are key.
Major depression, also known as clinical depression or just depression, is a mental illness diagnosed by looking for these criteria:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or a depressed mood with no relief
- Loss of interest in activities
- Weight gain or loss due to changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep, either sleeping more or less than usual
- Fatigue and apathy
- Agitation or slowed movement and speech
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Trouble thinking, focusing on tasks, or making decisions
- Suicidal thoughts
To be diagnosed with depression requires persistence of symptoms for at least two weeks and significant loss of normal functioning.
These are the official signs of depression, but there are others. You know your adult child, and any significant changes in behaviors or personality should be concerning. Gender also matters. Symptoms of depression more common in men include physical pain, anger, and impulsive behaviors. In women, depression may cause more seasonal sadness, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, and gaining weight or sleeping excessively.
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Warning Signs of Suicide
Depression and suicide are not the same. Someone with depression is at a greater risk of suicide, but the signs that someone is feeling suicidal are distinct:
- Talking about being a burden or that loved ones would be better off without them
- Feeling trapped or with no solutions to their problems
- Talking about suicide or dying
- Increased self-destructive and reckless behaviors including drug and alcohol abuse
- Researching suicide, stockpiling drugs, or looking for a gun
- Social withdrawal and isolation from loved ones
- Saying goodbye and giving away personal possessions
If you see these signs in your adult child, don’t hesitate to reach out to offer help. Talking about suicidal thoughts and depression does not encourage suicide. Talking about it opens up doors to healing and offers alternative solutions.
How to Protect Someone With Suicidal Thoughts
Knowing you need to help your adult child and understanding how to do that are completely different. Many parents feel lost when it comes to facing suicide in a child. These are some important things you can do, both before a depressed child shows signs of suicidal thoughts and after:
- Help them get mental health treatment. Talk about treatment, but take it beyond talk. Offer options like residential treatment facilities. Offer solutions too, such as financial assistance or childcare, if they have barriers to getting care. Getting professional help for depression is the best thing your adult child can do to reduce the risk of suicide.
- Follow up with, and support, treatment. Just getting your adult child into treatment is not enough. Follow up and make sure they keep attending sessions. Be there for any family events or therapy. When your child is out of treatment, keep being there to talk and listen. Encourage them to go back for more treatment as necessary. Depression is life-long and requires ongoing care.
- Encourage positive lifestyle habits. Telling an adult child how to live their life doesn’t always go well, but if you can help your child develop healthier habits it will support better mental health. Do healthy activities together. Go for walks or to exercise classes regularly. Make healthy meals together. Do activities and hobbies together that don’t involve alcohol.
- Ask the hard questions. Don’t be afraid to talk about this difficult topic. Studies show that asking someone at risk of suicide about it does not increase the risk of suicide. In fact, talking about it is more likely to reduce suicidal actions. Always take talk about suicide seriously. It is a mistake to assume your child would never follow through with it.
- Be a good listener. It’s your role to start the conversation, but then it’s time to listen. Acknowledge their feelings and listen without judgement. Try to keep your emotions under control, which is difficult as a parent. Overreacting or panicking will not help your child. Help them to focus on getting through each day rather than worrying about the future. And reassure them that these awful feelings won’t last forever.
- Protect them from suicidal means. While it may be true that someone determined to commit suicide will find away, making it more difficult does reduce the risk. If you can have your adult child stay with you, that’s best. Keep medications, alcohol, guns, and any other weapons out of reach.
- Have a crisis plan ready. If you have an adult child with depression who may also be suicidal, you should be prepared for a crisis situation. If you believe they are in immediate danger, put that plan into action. A plan should include another loved one to call for support if you cannot be there physically; never leave someone in crisis alone. Have a crisis hotline ready to call. Make a plan to remove any lethal means of suicide in the vicinity. Call 911 if necessary.
Worrying about a child never ends, no matter how old they get. If you have an adult child struggling with depression or any mental health issues, educate yourself about suicide. Know the signs, be there for your child, get them professional support, and be ready for a crisis should the worst actually happen.
If you’re concerned about a loved one and believe they may need residential care, we can help. BrightQuest offers long-term treatment for people struggling with complex mental illnesses. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.