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Alan LewisDr. Alan Lewis talks about "Coping With Feelings and Thoughts Of Suicide." We also covered the difference between thinking about suicide and committing suicide, the different levels of depression, symptoms of depression and treatment for depression, the ability to cope and coping skills for handling intense emotional pain, and how to help a suicidal person.

David: moderator.

The people in blue are audience members.

David: Good Evening, I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to Our topic is "Coping With Feelings and Thoughts Of Suicide." Our guest is Alan Lewis, Ph.D., who has a private practice in Tampa, Florida. He specializes in behavior therapy.

Good evening, Dr. Lewis and welcome to We appreciate you being our guest tonight. What is it in an individual that allows them to cross the line from thinking about suicide to actually committing suicide?

Dr. Lewis: When someone feels like their pain exceeds their resources and their ability to cope, suicide begins to seem like the only option.

David: So, maybe at this point it's good to talk about different levels of depression. Can you describe to us how depressed someone can be, before suicidal thoughts really start to take a grip?

Dr. Lewis: It depends on the individual. In fact, some people have suicidal thoughts, and if you ask them if they're depressed they'll tell you, "no." Usually, though, someone has to be severely depressed for an extended period of time, before they attempt suicide. Although, that's not a hard-and-fast-rule.

David: That leads to my next question. Can someone who is suffering from depression really tell how depressed they actually are?

Dr. Lewis: Sometimes, denial is pretty powerful. Many people, especially males, don't like to admit that they are depressed. They see it as a character flaw or a sign of weakness.

David: Could you give us some guidelines on how to measure when you are really in trouble?

Dr. Lewis:>Well, it helps to know the symptoms of depression:

  • sad mood for an extended period of time
  • thoughts of hopelessness
  • suicidal thoughts
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • no energy
  • not getting pleasure out of things that one used to enjoy

David: What are the most productive ways to cope with thoughts of suicide?

Dr. Lewis: First, I think, it's helpful to tell yourself, "that people do get through depression and thoughts of suicide." It's also helpful to know that help and treatment for depression exist. The difficulty, sometimes, is knowing where and how to get it.

David: That's a good point. Where and how do you get help?

Dr. Lewis: It's usually best to start with your primary care physician or gynecologist, to rule in or rule out any physical factors that may be causing depression. If physical factors are ruled out, the next stop is a mental health professional. Usually a psychiatrist or psychologist is what people think of, but there are other disciplines that can certainly treat depression, as well as provide a diagnosis.

David: I also want to mention, if money or no insurance is an issue, that there are county mental health clinics, university medical school psychiatric departments, the local United Way gives referrals, and women's shelters offer low or no-cost counseling. You don't have to be battered to take advantage of their services.

Dr. Lewis, many people, I'm sure, at one time or another think about committing suicide. What stops them from following through?

Dr. Lewis: Having a good support system helps, although the problem is that as depression gets worse, so does isolation from other people.

We have a lot of audience questions. Let's start with this one:

arryanna: If suicide is something I often think of, and have tried once, does this increase my chances of actually committing suicide one day?

Dr. Lewis: Yes, one of the things I get very concerned about is if someone has made a previous suicidal gesture.

Cirafly: What is the best thing to do if you are feeling suicidal?

Dr. Lewis: First, give yourself some time to say, "I'm going to wait twenty-four hours before I do anything." Next, try and take some action to feel better. Talking to a friend, or some resource like a hot-line.

The web has definitely made getting information and help easier. The important thing is to use whatever is out there.