It's one of the most heart-wrenching and terrible things to witness: Your spouse has been depressed for months. They might feel anxious, panicky, hopeless and besieged with negative and self-critical thoughts. They might be having sleep problems, sleeping much less or far more than usual. Now your beloved has begun saying taking their own life is the only way out, and sees multiple problems as insoluble. You want to help your partner recover from suicidal feelings but feel helpless on what to do — however, there is help out there during what can be an incredibly difficult and frightening time.
Modern understanding of suicidal feelings as a medical condition, caused by emotional illnesses and substance abuse, emerged in the late 19th century. Gradually, a two-pronged treatment system arose — Sigmund Freud pioneered psychotherapy and Emil Kraepelin founded biological psychiatry, which led to the discovery of antidepressant medications.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the majority of people exhibiting suicidal behaviors are depressed, bipolar, schizophrenic or have an alcohol or drug problem. But even if your loved one has no history of any of these illnesses, your spouse may still be genuinely suicidal. The National Mental Health Institute notes that suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the United States in 2006.
Suicide Prevention Actions
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention suggests communicating with your partner as much as possible. Make an appointment for your spouse with a therapist. A therapist can help your loved one change pervasive negative thoughts to more positive ones, and can put your spouse on antidepressant medication. You may also want to make an appointment for your spouse with your family physician, as some physical illnesses can cause depression.
Getting Outside Help
"Preventing Suicide," an essay by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, suggests that if your spouse is suicidal and has a plan, you should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255. You can also call 911 and have your spouse taken to an emergency room. A hospital psychiatrist can decide if your loved one needs to undergo psychiatric hospitalization and whether your spouse should start taking an antidepressant medication.
After Suicide Attempt
It's truly heartbreaking, but it may take several weeks before medication and therapy reduce your spouse's suicidal feelings. It is possible that your loved one may still attempt suicide. If your spouse tries to commit suicide and survives, be as kind and supportive to them as possible. Your partner may yet respond to medication and therapy and get through the depression, so have hope.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers a free downloadable PDF pamphlet, "Suicide: Taking Care of Yourself After an Attempt," which discusses ways to help your loved one recover from a suicide attempt.