Depression and suicide: understanding the link

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing depression with suicidal thoughts, here is what you can do to offer immediate support.

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Page medically reviewed by Dr Natasha Bijlani (FRCPsych, MBBS), Consultant Psychiatrist based at Priory Hospital Roehampton in January 2022.

Globally, statistics suggest that around 5% of adults suffer from depression, which is often characterised by intense feelings of sadness, guilt and hopelessness. Many people who have the common signs and symptoms of depression are able to manage their mental health condition, often with the help of treatment and self-care strategies for depression.

However, there is one symptom of depression that needs more urgent attention – suicidal thoughts. Although many people deal with depression without having suicidal thoughts, evidence shows that mental health issues are a major risk factor for suicide (source).

This article outlines what you need to know about the relationship between depression and suicidal thoughts, and what you should do if you, or someone you know, is experiencing them. Remember that, for anyone experiencing severely depressive symptoms or having suicidal thoughts, support is available, recovery is possible and a happy and healthy life is attainable.

What is suicidal depression?

Suicidal depression is not a clinical diagnosis, but it refers to someone who's suffering from major or clinical depression and is having suicidal thoughts.

Alongside suicidal ideation, sufferers will also experience many of the most common signs and symptoms of depression:

  • Intense feelings of sadness, guilt and/or worthlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of interest in hobbies and interests
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances such as insomnia or struggling to get out of bed in the morning

If you, or someone you know, is having suicidal thoughts:

Warning signs of suicide

It can be hard to identify when someone is considering suicide, but there are things you can look out for that may indicate a severe deterioration in someone’s mental health. It’s important that you’re vigilant when looking out for changes in a loved one’s behaviour or state of mind.

There are many things that might indicate someone is at risk of suicide – here are some common warning signs:

  • A significant shift in their mood. They may even seem calmer than before, perhaps indicating they have decided to go through with suicide
  • Despair or an extreme level of hopelessness about their life
  • Talking about, writing, or researching about death or suicide
  • Saying goodbye to family and friends
  • Completely withdrawing from social interactions
  • Buying the means to attempt suicide, such as a knife or saving pills
  • High levels of anxiety or agitation
  • Excessive alcohol use or drug abuse

It’s important to remember that other mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety or drug or alcohol abuse, also have a relationship with suicide. If you notice any of the signals above, either in yourself or someone else, you should take steps to get crisis support straightaway.

What should I do if someone I know feels suicidal?

If you’re concerned about someone’s mental health, take the time to speak to them and listen without judgement. Try to develop an understanding of their mental state, and don’t be afraid to ask them if they’re having suicidal thoughts. It’s important to listen carefully and speak with compassion when you're trying to help someone who is depressed.

Consider approaching the conversation by saying things like “I’m here for you if you need me” or “This must be incredibly difficult.”

If you’re concerned about what they say, or have noticed some of the warning signs of suicide, it’s important you take action both in the short-term and long-term.

Seek urgent care

Without delay, you should seek to access to some of the urgent support facilities that are available to people whose mental health has declined significantly. You could:

You could also offer to attend any GP or hospital appointments with the person as moral support, letting them know that they don’t have to be alone and you’re there for them.

Have a safety plan

Another proactive step might be to create a suicide ‘safety plan’ that you can make use of if you’re ever in a crisis situation.

A safety plan is a set of steps you can take to help you, or someone else, navigate their suicidal thoughts and return to a more positive state of wellbeing. In it, you might include:

  • Warning signs you’ve noticed in the past that have resulted in a mental health crisis
  • Coping strategies the person in crisis could adopt – such as breathing exercises or resources to help calm them down
  • The contact details of loved ones you could get in touch with who might be able to speak to the person in crisis and offer support
  • A list of support lines or organisations who could offer support
  • Steps you could take to make it less likely that the person is able to harm themselves – for example removing things that could be used to cause harm from their immediate vicinity

Samaritans have a template suicide safety plan you could make use of, helping you to take action as soon as you think it’s needed in the future.

Treatment for suicidal depression

Major depression is a serious condition that can make life very difficult. If it also involves suicidal thoughts, it can be a potentially life-threatening situation. For anyone suffering with this condition, know that there are many evidence-based treatments for depression with suicidal thoughts. Recovery is within reach if you speak up and ask for help.

You can either speak to your GP about available treatments, or get help today with Priory. Our world class mental health treatments include:

Residential treatment programme

An intensive residential stay in one of our hospitals where you'll receive the very best support and round-the-clock treatment, helping you to focus on your long-term recovery.


One of the most widely used treatments for major depression is therapy. At Priory, you can take part in therapy sessions with highly qualified mental health professionals, who can help you to process the difficulties in your life and move beyond them.

Therapy can be delivered on a one-to-one basis, as part of group therapy, or from the comfort of your own home with online therapy.


During treatment, medication may also be prescribed to you to help limit symptoms and complement your other treatments. The most common type of antidepressants used to treat depression are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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