It’s important, says Dr. Frank Ochberg, for journalists to understand the clinical definition of depression, and the connection between depression and suicide, in order to approach the topic in a knowledgeable and responsible way.

For instance, he says the medical diagnosis of clinical depression stresses a biological base. “In the brain, something has broken in the systems of mood regulation,” he explains. “On the outside you look slow, speak more slowly, appear tired…feel hopeless and worthless.” Clinical depression may also have physical symptoms, including indigestions, headaches and backaches.

There’s an important difference, Ochberg continues, between major depressive disorder and adjustment disorder with depressed mood (for more on these differences, see Mood Disorders on the Parent and Teen Resources website). But, both may lead to suicide.

It’s also important not to directly associate suicide with clinical depression, Ochberg says. Most people who are clinically depressed will not attempt suicide, and some who attempt suicide are not depressed in the medical sense. “Certain kinds of suicidal situations need to be understood as distinct and different from other situations,” he says, noting that age, gender and other demographic factors may influence the suicidal behavior.

Understanding effective treatments is also key in understanding depression, adds Ochberg. “When the mood thermostat is damaged, it can heal itself, but it usually does best with anti-depressant medication, often with anti anxiety medication.” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may also be an important element of the healing process.

In an interview with Gift From Within about reactions to anniversaries of tragedy, Ochberg cited the following warning signs of suicide risk: A marked change in personality, giving away things of value, withdrawing, saying, ‘I'm thinking of suicide.”

He continues: “Additional signs are the absence of clear plans or commitments for the near future. Or a sudden, irrational cheerfulness after gloom (meaning that death has been chosen as an alternative to emotional pain). Suicide is often abetted by drinking, so hoarding liquor, moving from depression to alcoholic depression to alcoholic depression with access to weapons are danger signs.”

For more facts on mental illness, depression, and suicide, visit the National Mental Health Association Fact Sheet page.