his is a very difficult topic to write about, for so many reasons. Not just because I have dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts myself, nor because I am part of a generation where many people know someone who has committed suicide, or tried to, but because it’s become a taboo topic within our society. It feels like a great big blanket has been laid over the top of the issue, and the only people that can peer underneath are those who get lost in the darkness themselves, or those who have been touched by it. Everyone else just tries not to think about it.
But obviously it’s something we need to think about; something we need to talk about. If we can get more people actively considering the impact suicide could have on a life – on anyone’s life – we can raise awareness around its devastatingly tragic consequences, and hopefully lower the frequency of its occurrence.
Death is often seen as a tragedy – losing someone is hardly a pleasant experience. It often feels like there should be more fuss made, more of a fanfare when someone loses his or her life. But it’s hardly like it is in the movies – people slip out of their lives into death quite simply and without too much drama. This is a huge generalization, but it’s my best way of starting on this topic.
But when someone commits suicide, it’s a different kind of tragedy. There’s more ‘I didn’t even know it was that bad’, or ‘could I have done something?’ For many years I was of the opinion that committing suicide is one of the most selfish acts you could possibly commit. However, that’s not a fair judgment to pass on anyone. It’s hardly something you can understand unless you’ve experienced the deepest, darkest depression and hopelessness. When you’re trying to struggle against that kind of despair, it’s difficult to consider much of anything aside from wanting the hopelessness and pain to stop.
There is some small data that says a very large amount of people have suicidal thoughts – but I’d hazard a guess and say that the majority of those people are able to deal with them purely as thoughts – they can push them aside and wonder why they were thinking them in the first place. It is that separation between the two –those that can deal with the thoughts, and those that can’t – that make for such a big barrier between people. This is what leads to that blanket, and the loneliness that those lost in the darkness can’t seem to escape.
Within this blog post, my main aim is just to give some general information about suicide and warning signs – and a little bit of information on how to help someone if you think they’re having suicidal thoughts. I don’t wish to insult anyone, or to judge anyone with this information. After all, suicide is still a very delicate topic, and while I am completely of the belief that we need to talk about it more to raise awareness, I don’t think that the act of talking about it should make anyone feel exposed or attacked because they have these thoughts. If anything, we need to draw together so that we can support everyone equally, so that no one is left in the dark.
Now, you should know straight up that there is no complete list of warning signs – after all, everyone experiences things differently, and some people are much more talented at hiding their emotions than others. The main thing is that you need to recognize that something just isn’t right. With that in mind, here is a basic list of warning signs to look out for:
If something happens in someone’s life that changes the way they behave, this could lead to suicidal thoughts. Things like separation, addiction, or bereavement could lead to thoughts that life just isn’t worth it any more, but it does depend on the individual’s emotions.
A lot of behaviours that may seem difficult. That is, behaviours that distance the person from others can be indicative of suicidal worries. Things like crying, withdrawing, recklessness, fighting, increased use or abuse of drugs and alcohol, or the action of ‘tidying up’ their lives (writing a will, organizing funeral insurance, or just speaking about death a lot more) are some of the things to look out for.
If the person begins to appear more disheveled, begins to put less energy into their appearance, and seems to lack appetite and energy, it is possible that they are depressed. Also look out for signs of disturbed sleep or distress.
If the person begins to talk to you about plans for death, or mentions that they feel worthless, helpless, hopeless, lonely, or overly guilty – try to pay attention. They may also engage in increased activities of escapism.
Look out for feelings like anger, sadness, lethargy, apathy, distress, etc. Obviously these sorts of emotions can come up at any time (we ARE human), but if they seem to be increasing, or there’s an alarming mixture of negative emotions, try to talk to the person about what they’re experiencing.
Remember that you may need to take this warning signs in context with what is happening in someones life, for example someone who is grieving the death of a loved one could display a lot of these emotions – in that case it’s quite healthy. But if these emotions and behaviours are prolonged and don’t seem to be getting better, there’s a chance the individual is depressed and may be trying to reach out for help.
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve had people come to me with concerns about being depressed or considering suicide no matter how calm I am at the time, I begin to feel quite flustered and out of my depth. It doesn’t matter that I’ve experienced similar feelings – I don’t want to upset the other person by saying I know EXACTLY what they’re going through because, chances are, I may not. So here are just a few guidelines on how to help someone having suicidal thoughts or if you are feeling suicidal how to find that all important help:
1. If you have suicidal thoughts – TELL SOMEONE. I know that can be scary and really difficult, but you need to get the feelings out if you’re ever going to deal with them. They’re reaction to your news will tell you if they can help you or not.
2. Don’t stop at telling one person, even if it turns out they can help. Find SEVERAL people who take you seriously and want to help. Maybe the first person you tell can help, or maybe you can talk to a teacher or a workmate. Find people to talk to.
3. ASK if you have ANY suspicion that someone might be suicidal. Ask them as directly and clearly as possible, and as soon as possible. Use the word ‘suicide’ to help them open up – don’t make it a taboo word. Mention that you’re concerned. And even if they’re not suicidal, they’ll know that you cared enough to ask. It’s better to risk embarrassment than someone’s life. Try things like “I’ve noticed you’ve been down a lot lately, and I’m just a bit worried about what’s going on. Have you been thinking about suicide?” Most people struggling with these thoughts will be grateful that someone has noticed.
4. LISTEN to what they say, even if it’s difficult to listen to. If you can’t listen, they won’t talk. One of the biggest reasons that suicide is taboo is because when people try and talk about it, hardly anyone listens. This makes it harder and harder for the person to keep trying to talk about it, which makes them more and more isolated. This is one of the biggest things you can do to help someone, and sometimes it will be all a person needs to stop feeling suicidal.
5. KEEP THEM SAFE. If you feel they’re very close to attempting suicide, don’t try to solve all their problems NOW. Just keep them safe until further steps can be taken. This might involve things like calling friends who can keep them company, taking away their means of suicide or getting professional help.
6. GET HELP. Don’t make yourself burn out from trying to look after this person on your own – look after yourself too. Don’t promise them that you’ll keep their secret to yourself, and always tell the person if you’re going to tell someone else. You need to be loyal and trustworthy, but also let them know that you care about them so much you might need to tell someone in order to keep them safe. On that note, help can include: friends and family, colleagues, General Practitioners (GPs), Counsellors and Clinical Psychologists, and even self-help strategies (including self-help books, exercise, sunlight early in the morning, acupuncture, massage and relaxation, some vitamins and yogic breathing. Ask your GP about vitamins and herbal supplements that can help, including St John’s Wort).
Just remember that it’s okay to talk about suicide – it isn’t a curse – and while it’s important to keep others safe, you can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself. And most of all, remember that most people who attempt suicide do not want to die. What they want is to put an end to the pain and suffering they’re currently experiencing. If they truly wanted to die, they would have died already. So even if someone is adamant they want to commit suicide, there’s something stopping them because they’re still alive.
This is a great video produced by the team here at TINO – about helping someone who you feel maybe suicidal.
Explore the mental health section right here on TINO for heaps of factsheets, videos and stories about depression, managing depression, suicide and more. You can also visit some of these resources for further information, or if you need to speak to someone please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Also check the related topics:Suicide What is it like getting help?