Feeling depressed? Where to get online help and support for anxiety or suicidal thoughts
Mental health issues affect more people than many of us realise.
One in four people in the UK reportedly have a mental health disorder, and the most common diagnosis is mixed anxiety and depression disorder, symptoms of which include thoughts of suicide and self-harm.
Globally, around 800,000 people die by suicide every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Suicide is also the second leading cause of death amongst 15- to 29-year-olds.
The situation is so dire that the WHO lists suicide prevention as a global public health priority and is encouraging countries to provide comprehensive prevention strategies. As part of these plans, the organisation is committed to reducing the global suicide rate by 10% by 2020 in its WHO Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020.
To help people suffering from depression or those worried about depressive symptoms, Google recently partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in the US to add mental health screening questionnaires to its search results.
Now when you search for “clinical depression” on Google on mobile, you’ll see a Knowledge Panel giving you the option to tap “check if you’re clinically depressed”. This will open a so-called PHQ-9 screening questionnaire to assess whether or not you’re exhibiting signs of depression. The data isn’t shared with Google. Instead, you can take the results to your doctor and use it as a guide to treatment.
Facebook is similarly using AI to seek out suicidal users. It recently trialled AI-prevention flags that used pattern recognition to spot signs of suicidal or depressive behaviour. Last year, these machine-learning tools were rolled out further to help vulnerable members and their friends and family.
If you are feeling depressed or suicidal, or are concerned about a friend or loved one, you’re not alone. Here are guidelines on what to look for and how to get support. It should be noted that not everyone exhibiting the signs listed below will be suicidal, and there are both online and offline support groups if you’re worried and want further clarification.
Signs of depression
If a person is at risk of depression or suicide, warning signs often manifest themselves in a person’s attitude, interactions with others and routine.
They may talk about feeling hopeless and trapped or act out in a sudden rage.
Agitation and mood swings are common, including a lift in mood after a depressive period, which could indicate the person has made the decision to attempt suicide.
Your friend or loved one may lose interest in things that previously excited them and withdraw from friends, family, and society.
Sleeping very little, or all the time, should also be treated as a red flag, as should noticeable changes in a person’s weight.
Elsewhere, engaging in risky behaviour without thoughts of consequences can be indicative of someone being at risk of suicide. Examples can include self-harm or misusing drugs and alcohol.
At the extreme end of the scale, high-risk warning signs include threatening to hurt or kill themselves, talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, and actively looking for the means to commit suicide — such as collecting medication. If you notice these, there are more immediate steps to be taken, but we will get to that later.
The strongest risk factor for suicide is, of course, a previous suicide attempt and the number of attempted suicides is often “much higher” than the number of suicides, according to the NHS.
How to help
The best thing to do, as a concerned friend or family member, is to simply talk to someone who you think may be feeling suicidal and encourage them to express their feelings.
When approaching them, it is important to keep in mind a few guidelines – one of the most paramount being a non-judgemental discourse. For example, you may think the person is drinking too much or not eating enough. Instead of pointing out flaws, offer reassurance, respect and support.
Asking questions is a good way to steer the conversation because it allows the person you’re concerned about to control the conversation and express themselves. Statements, such as “I know how you feel” and “Try not to worry about it” can possibly end the conversation and be counterproductive.
Any productive and supportive conversation, though, is not the same as long-term support, such as getting professional help.
If someone is expressing high-risk warning signs or you are concerned about their health, following the steps above can help, but you may also want to contact someone involved in the person’s care if they have received prior professional help.
If those contacts aren’t available, call your nearest accident and emergency department, which can be found here, and ask for the contact information of the nearest crisis resolution team (CRT). CRTs are teams of mental health professionals who work with people experiencing extreme mental and emotional distress
Most importantly, do not leave someone who appears to be in a crisis alone, and remove any items that could be used to attempt suicide – medication, sharp objects such as knives, household chemicals, ropes, belts – from their surrounding environment.
Where to find help online
Reaching out for help is difficult, but it will help you or your loved one find the support needed. Here a few places you can go:
Samaritans operates a free 24-hour service available to anybody 365 days a year. It can be reached at 1116 123. If you’d prefer to write down your feelings or don’t want to be overheard, you can also email the organisation at email@example.com.
If you are a child or young person seeking help, you can call Childline at 0800 1111. These calls are also free and won’t show up on your phone bill, so you can talk in complete privacy. PAPYRUS at 0800 068 41 41 is another hotline available for young people, but it is targeted towards teenagers and young adults.
The support group Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is a resource available specifically for young men. CALM can also be reached via its helpline at 0800 58 58 58.
Reach out to someone you know and trust. This can include, but doesn’t have to, a parent or family member. It can be a friend, teacher, coach, mental health care professional — anyone you feel comfortable enough to bring the subject up with.
Your GP can also guide you towards the appropriate treatment and even refer you to therapists.
How to beat depression
Having a mental health condition isn’t a choice – it’s a chemical imbalance. That doesn’t mean, though, there aren’t things you can do to improve your mental wellbeing.
Exercise can be as effective as an antidepressant for people with mild depression, research has shown. Exercise generally lifts your mood, helps reduce stress and anxiety and improves self-esteem. A change in a person’s weight is a common symptom of depression and can be a warning sign for suicide, so healthy eating is a way to maintain physical health and avoid any negative feelings that may come with weight loss or gain.
Conscious alcohol consumption can also be a way to improve mental health. As a depressant, alcohol can magnify negative feelings, such as sadness and hopelessness. It is recommended that men only drink three to four units per day and women consume two to three units per day. A unit of alcohol depends on what type of drink you’re having, For spirits and a normal-strength lager, it’s 25 ml, and for wine, it’s 125 ml – equal to a small glass.
Consistent drug use can also negatively affect a person with depression. If you have difficulty discontinuing substance use, reach out for help and see your GP.
Also, avoiding isolation and pushing oneself to interact with others – whether out with friends, at work or in a support group – is a good way to remain engaged with the world around you.
A lot of these options are much easier said than done when you’re feeling suicidal or depressed so are listed here to hopefully help when you, or your loved one, feels the time is right.
Suicide is preventable, and there is help you can seek out. If you’d like to learn more about your options, please check the NHS’s website or visit the website of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, which provides downloadable factsheets about how to help someone who is at risk of suicide – whether it’s yourself or a loved one.
If you are feeling suicidal, or are concerned about a friend or loved one, the Samaritans offer confidential support. Call 08457 90 90 90, visit a local Samaritans branch or go to the Samaritans website for more details and support.