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Depression and the Potential Link to Suicide - By Dr. Mike Colson

Dr. Michael A. Colson
Clinical Director - MCA Services

The Role of Depression in Suicide
Depression in mature working professionals – both men and women – is an almost expected part of living in austere and often dangerous environments. Some research data suggests that upward of 30% of individuals engaged in combat zone activities develop depressive behavior patterns over time. While most people who are treated for depression respond well, the link to suicide thoughts and actions for those in pre-treatment is significant. Fully 90% of those who act to end their own life had symptoms of depression. Just as depression is curable, so too is suicide…in 100% of cases. This quick read is designed to give you, as a working professional, insight into both depression and suicide which is often misunderstood. Its primary focus is to de-stigmatize getting the medical support necessary to save your or someone you knows life.

Depression is Common and Noticeable
More Americans suffer from depression (19 million) than coronary heart disease (7 million), cancer (5 million), and AIDS (200,000). Individuals with multiple bouts of depression are at greater risk. While 15% of people are diagnosed with clinical depression during their lifetimes, nearly one-third of clinically depressed patients attempt suicide with half ultimately dying by suicide. Common and noticeable trends for depressed people are as follows:

Feeling Hopeless – Experiencing rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge – Acting reckless – Feeling trapped – Increasing alcohol/drug use – Withdrawing socially – Feeling Anxious, agitated, poor sleep habits – Experiencing dramatic mood changes – Expressing no reason to live; no sense of purpose in life.

Since depression can trigger suicidal tendencies, it should be treated. Most support comes in the form of low-dose, non-narcotic behavior and sleep modification medications that, when taken even for a few weeks, dramatically improve patients health and outlook. And there is a reason for this…

Depression Alters How the Brain Functions
If a brain is functioning improperly – e.g. reacting to stressors vs. deliberating on positive problem solving strategies - then fixing it should be the focus. Stressful (traumatic) stimulation of the brain – singularly or repeatedly - can alter brain chemistry and significantly change how a person thinks and acts. Lack of medical care may contribute to the brain’s dysfunction and can make depressive episodes and peak suicidal thoughts a regular part of a sufferer’s lifestyle. This chronic condition is what leads inexorably to a downward spiral in quality of living and possibly a suicidal gesture or action. But because there is such stigma
associated with mental health concerns in general – sufferers tend to retreat into loneliness when seeking medical treatment is required. And seeking assistance is critical!

What is the Root Cause of Suicide
If depression and changed brain functioning can create episodic depression and suicidal tendencies, why would that override normal people’s will to live? The answer is simple. When a person decides that ‘suicide is a reasonable option’ – given their experiences, level of trauma, belief about circumstances – then they will act. Prior to this ending one’s life is not an acceptable option. Yet, as depressive and suicidal thought episodes increase in regularity, viewpoints change. Deciding to take one’s own life is not a single, solitary act. More commonly it is traumatic process the sufferer will engage in until overloaded. At that critical junction of overload – if the ‘reasonable option’ decision has been made – then suicide can become a reality.

Suicide as a Medical Concern
If you or someone you know has any of the observable symptoms listed in this brief – and – you are concerned for their safety and well being, remember that all suicides are preventable. While most prevention campaigns look initially to behavioral methods to prevent suicide, a better first step is to seek confidential medical advice and treatment. A primary care provider, emergency room, local clinic, etc are all good options. The key is to first alter how the brain functions with respect to depression, trauma, sleep, or common daily challenges. Then, once mended, tackle any potential behavioral/relational issues preventing improved quality of living. No stigma can be attached to something that is clearly a medical issue, especially one that is so common today. Get the support needed and live fully as intended.

Reference
Colson, M.A. (1998) Keeping a Life (‘Get a Life’ Series). Indiana. UMI Press.
Colson, M.A. (2001) Paradox of Underachievement. Indiana. UMI Press.
Hoge, C.W., Castro, C.A., Messer S.C., McGurk, D. Cotting, D.I. & Koffman, R.L. (2004). Combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, mental health problems, and barriers to care. New England Journal of Medicine, 351, 13-22.