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Suicide Attempt

Q. Last month I attempted suicide. I still feel that my family would be better off without me, that there is no future for me, that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and I'm utterly exhausted. There is no more fight within me. I am currently on Zoloft and Valium. I have taken Prozac, Elavil, Pamelor and Doxipan. I am also in outpatient counseling, which helps a little. Do you have any suggestions that might help me see some improvement and give me a reason to keep fighting?

A. Your story, unfortunately, echoes those of millions of individuals who suffer from severe, major depression. Some day, you may look back at what happened following your suicide attempt and feel that you were given a second chance to succeed at life. While I don't have any magic solutions for you, I do want to offer you the perspective I have gained after having treated many hundreds of such patients.

First: Depression is a treatable and reversible condition, even when several therapies or medications have failed. There are still many treatments that could be tried and which I have seen work. It might be frustrating, but not all treatments are beneficial to an individual patient. You should talk to your psychiatrist about both your ongoing feelings of hopelessness and possible trials on some of the newer antidepressants, such as Effexor and Remeron. And, whatever you may have heard about ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), do not exclude this as a treatment option! I have seen ECT work for people who were virtually at death's door. It is safe and very effective.

Second: In all my years of treating depressed patients and working with their families, I have never seen a single instance in which the family truly felt they would be better off without their depressed family member. That's right, not once. This belief is virtually always a symptom of severe depression. In fact, suicide is usually a devastating emotional blow to a family, from which recovery is extremely difficult. Some families never recover from losing a loved one in this way.

Third: You are not alone. If you have not yet joined the National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (NDMDA), I would urge you to do so. They provide support and peer counseling for thousands of individuals with depression; you can call 800-826-3632 for local referrals. You can also contact the National Mental Health Self-help Clearinghouse (800-553-4539) and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Web site (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org) and hotline (800) 273-TALK. These groups should supplement, not replace, the help you are already receiving. Also keep in mind that the Samaritans provide 24-hour anonymous telephone counseling for suicidal individuals (ask your telephone operator for the number).

Finally, depending on your spiritual and religious orientation, consider some form of pastoral counseling; not as a replacement, but as a supplement to your therapy. I know it may be hard for you to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but I hope you can believe that I believe that. Good luck...

December 1997