5. How would I know if someone I care about was contemplating suicide?
Often suicidal people will give warning signs, consciously or unconsciously, indicating that they need help and often in the hope that they will be rescued. These usually occur in clusters, so often several warning signs will be apparent. The presence of one or more of these warning signs is not intended as a guarantee that the person is suicidal: the only way to know for sure is to ask them. In other cases, a suicidal person may not want to be rescued, and may avoid giving warning signs.
Typical warning signs which are often exhibited by people who are feeling suicidal include:
- Withdrawing from friends and family.
- Depression, broadly speaking; not necessarily a diagnosable mental illness such as clinical depression, but indicated by signs such as:
- Loss of interest in usual activities.
- Showing signs of sadness, hopelessness, irritability.
- Changes in appetite, weight, behavior, level of activity or sleep patterns.
- Loss of energy.
- Making negative comments about self.
- Recurring suicidal thoughts or fantasies.
- Sudden change from extreme depression to being `at peace’ (may indicate that they have decided to attempt suicide).
- Talking, Writing or Hinting about suicide.
- Previous attempts.
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
- Purposefully putting personal affairs in order:
- Giving away possessions.
- Sudden intense interest in personal wills or life insurance.
- ‘Clearing the air’ over personal incidents from the past.
This list is not definitive: some people may show no signs yet still feel suicidal, others may show many signs yet be coping OK; the only way to know for sure is to ask. In conjunction with the risk factors listed above, this list is intended to help people identify others who may be in need of support.
If a person is highly perturbed, has formed a potentially lethal plan to kill themselves and has the means to carry it out immediately available, they would be considered likely to attempt suicide.
6. I’m a bit uncomfortable about the topic; can’t it just go away?
Suicide has traditionally been a taboo topic in western society, which has led to further alienation and only made the problem worse. Even after their deaths, suicide victims have often been alienated by not being buried near other people in the cemetery, as though they had committed some utterly unforgivable sin.
We could go a long way to reducing our suicide rate by accepting people as they are, removing the social taboo on talking about feeling suicidal, and telling people that it is okay to feel so bad that you’d think about suicide. A person simply talking about how they feel greatly reduces their distress; they also begin to see other options, and are much less likely to attempt suicide.
7. So what can I do about it?
There usually are people to whom a suicidal person can turn for help; if you ever know someone is feeling suicidal, or feel suicidal yourself, seek out people who could help, and keep seeking until you find someone who will listen. Once again, the only way to know if someone is feeling suicidal is if you ask them and they tell you.
Suicidal people, like all of us, need love, understanding and care. People usually don’t ask “are you feeling so bad that you’re thinking about suicide?” directly. Locking themselves away increases the isolation they feel and the likelihood that they may attempt suicide. Asking if they are feeling suicidal has the effect of giving them permission to feel the way they do, which reduces their isolation; if they are feeling suicidal, they may see that someone else is beginning to understand how they feel.
If someone you know tells you that they feel suicidal, above all, listen to them. Then listen some more. Tell them “I don’t want you to die”. Try to make yourself available to hear about how they feel, and try to form a “no-suicide contract”: ask them to promise you that they won’t suicide, and that if they feel that they want to hurt themselves again, they won’t do anything until they can contact either you, or someone else that can support them. Take them seriously, and refer them to someone equipped to help them most effectively, such as a Doctor, Community Health Centre, Counsellor, Psychologist, Social Worker, Youth Worker, Minister, etc etc. If they appear acutely suicidal and won’t talk, you may need to get them to a hospital emergency department.
Don’t try to “rescue” them or to take their responsibilities on board yourself, or be a hero and try to handle the situation on your own. You can be the most help by referring them to someone equipped to offer them the help they need, while you continue to support them and remember that what happens is ultimately their responsibility. Get yourself some support too, as you try to get support for them; don’t try to save the world on your own shoulders.
If you don’t know where to turn, chances are there are a number of 24 Hour anonymous telephone counselling or suicide prevention services in your area that you can call, listed in your local telephone directory.
The crisis resource posting mentioned at the top of this posting also lists a number of Internet resources which provide support for people in crisis.
Psych Central. (2007). Frequently Asked Questions about Suicide. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 1, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/frequently-asked-questions-about-suicide/0001101
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.