The Dark Side of Spring: Suicide

04/23/2014 11:29 am ET Updated Jun 23, 2014

Spring... the season of renewal, longer and brighter days, mild nights, and blossoming flowers. To most of us, the season is welcome. It's what helps many people get through the long and cold winter, especially this most recent one. For many others though, spring is a season of despair, and suicide rates begin to peak.

There are several reasons why suicide rates spike at this time of year. Some of my patients describe feeling "so much different than others." This is when "you're supposed to be happy," they tell me. They compare themselves to others, and the environment and the contrast between the world in bloom and their dark and gloomy views heightens their feelings of isolation and depression. Other possible explanations: There's an expectation that depression from the winter will lift, yet it doesn't, and it sinks people deeper into despair. Also, as the weather warms, people feel slightly more energized and motivated and can formulate an actual plan and execute it. This is a dangerously potent combination of feeling both deeply depressed and motivated enough to take drastic actions.

Here's what to do if you feel suicidal:

  • Think deeper than your initial surface level feelings. Ask yourself if you really want to die, or do you just want all your problems to go away? For many suicidal patients, the latter is the case, and the pain that they're feeling at the time far outweighs their resources for coping.
  • Make a distinction between thoughts and action. How we think and how we act are often at odds. The best thing to do is to wait. Put some distance between how you feel and any negative action you're thinking of taking. So often things look and feel much different after some time has passed. Allow yourself a waiting period at which point you'll reevaluate.
  • Talk to someone, perhaps a trusted friend, family member, spiritual leader, or doctor. Reach out to the person now and remember, a true friend wants to you to be healthy.
  • Don't drink or do drugs. Doing so will impair your judgment and worsen feelings of depression and hopelessness.
  • Be hopeful. Have confidence that dark days do turn brighter and people are remarkably resilient.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
  • Call 911 if you feel you're in an emergency situation.

Here are the warning signs:

  • Talking about suicide or death. Comments such as: "I wish I were dead," "I can't go on anymore," "Soon you won't have to worry about me," or "People don't care about me," should not be ignored.
  • Looking at methods. Internet searches and preparation such as hoarding pills or obtaining a gun should be considered very serious actions.
  • Talking about a specific plan. This suggests that not only does the person feel suicidal, but they have taken it to the next step: a plan to end their life.
  • The person feels hopeless, desperate, trapped and as though he or she is a burden to others. There may be references to death through writing, music, or conversation.
  • The person feels victimized, rejected, and has lost interest in activities they once enjoyed.

Here's what to do if you know someone who might be suicidal:

  • Take any signs or mention of suicide very seriously. People don't usually mention suicide unless they feel it or are depressed. Both warrant action on your part.
  • Be gentle and direct and state your concerns. You might say, "I am very concerned about you feeling suicidal and want to help you." Ask if they have thought about harming themselves and if they have a plan and a method. This will help the person to feel cared for and less alone. Do not worry about asking such questions as they will not push a person to suicide.
  • Ask if they are under the care of a professional or taking medication. If there is a health care provider, ask if you can reach out to that person and schedule an appointment for them.
  • Don't argue with the person, downplay how they feel, or preach. Avoid statements like, "You have so much going for you." This will come across as dismissive of how they feel and is unhelpful. Stress that you care for them and want to help.
  • If the person is in crisis do not leave them alone. Remove all potentially dangerous items such as medication and knives and either call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency department.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

For tips for leading a fulfilling life check out my book BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days.