This is a topic that many people shy away from and feel uncomfortable talking about for various reasons. For some it’s a painful reminder of something someone they love may have committed. For others it’s a topic that leaves little space for discussion as often there are more questions than answers for those left behind. The truth of the matter is that we just don’t understand it and don’t know what to say when trying to console people affected by this.
That does not mean that we should avoid, ignore or desist from trying to learn, understand and educate ourselves about this serious matter. Taking one’s own life is not an easy thing to do, in fact the survival instinct built into each one of us often makes it the most difficult thing to act on. In order to better understand this it is important to dispel some common myths, such as “The people who talk about it don’t do it. “ Research has shown that in a high proportion of cases, people did things in the weeks prior to their death to show others how distressed or in despair they felt. So if you know anybody expressing such feelings or talking about feeling suicidal they may need immediate attention, help and support. What often starts out as a cry for help can develop into more serious mental health issues so its essential people are offered appropriate support as they need it. We are all unique individuals and as such each of us have different ways of coping in life. For some life can be become so overwhelmingly difficult that their ability to cope and resilience is overshadowed by their pain and suffering.
Another myth is “If a someone is going to kill themselves, nothing can stop them.” What the person wants is for the pain and suffering to end, part of them wants to live but the other part wants the pain to go away. With the right love, support, care and help from others at the time it’s most needed many do not act on their impulses. If you know somebody expressing feelings of a suicidal nature- Be present, listen and really hear what they are saying. Don’t rush in with advice or feel you have to ‘say the right thing’ there is no set way to respond, as long as you show in your voice, body and tone attentiveness, warmth, care and understanding that will be conveyed to the person and they will feel your support without words. They will have chosen you to confide in because they trust you and feel safe with you. No matter how negative the person feels the fact they are choosing to talk about it is a positive thing and it releases some of the pain. We need to be willing to offer help sooner rather than later. If however the person is acutely suicidal then do not leave them alone unsupervised, stay with them and seek professional help.
To help identify when a person may feel suicidal see the warning signs list below courtesy of https://www.metanoia.org/suicide/whattodo.htm
Conditions associated with increased risk of suicide
- Death or terminal illness of relative or friend.
- Divorce, separation, broken relationship, stress on family.
- Loss of health (real or imaginary).
- Loss of job, home, money, status, self-esteem, personal security.
- Alcohol or drug abuse.
- In the young depression may be masked by hyperactivity or acting out behaviour. In the elderly it may be incorrectly attributed to the natural effects of aging. Depression that seems to quickly disappear for no apparent reason is cause for concern. The early stages of recovery from depression can be a high risk period. Recent studies have associated anxiety disorders with increased risk for attempted suicide.
Emotional and behavioural changes associated with suicide
- Overwhelming Pain: pain that threatens to exceed the person’s pain coping capacities. Suicidal feelings are often the result of longstanding problems that have been exacerbated by recent precipitating events. The precipitating factors may be new pain or the loss of pain coping resources.
- Hopelessness: the feeling that the pain will continue or get worse; things will never get better.
- Powerlessness: the feeling that one’s resources for reducing pain are exhausted.
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, self-hatred, no one cares. Fears of losing control, harming self or others.
- Personality becomes sad, withdrawn, tired, apathetic, anxious, irritable, or prone to angry outbursts.
- Declining performance in school, work, or other activities. (Occasionally the reverse: someone who volunteers for extra duties because they need to fill up their time.)
- Social isolation; or association with a group that has different moral standards than those of the family.
- Declining interest in sex, friends, or activities previously enjoyed.
- Neglect of personal welfare, deteriorating physical appearance.
- Alterations in either direction in sleeping or eating habits.
- (Particularly in the elderly) Self-starvation, dietary mismanagement, disobeying medical instructions.
- Difficult times: holidays, anniversaries, and the first week after discharge from a hospital; just before and after diagnosis of a major illness; just before and during disciplinary proceedings. Undocumented status adds to the stress of a crisis.
- Previous suicide attempts, mini-attempts.
- Explicit statements of suicidal ideation or feelings.
- Development of suicidal plan, acquiring the means, rehearsal behaviour, setting a time for the attempt.
- Self-inflicted injuries, such as cuts, burns, or head banging.
- Reckless behaviour. (Besides suicide, other leading causes of death among young people are accidents, drug overdose, and AIDS.) Unexplained accidents among children and the elderly.
- Making out a will or giving away favourite possessions.
- Inappropriately saying goodbye.
- Verbal behaviour that is ambiguous or indirect: I’m going away on a real long trip., You won’t have to worry about me anymore., I want to go to sleep and never wake up., I’m so depressed, I just can’t go on., Does God punish suicides?, Voices are telling me to do bad things., requests for euthanasia information, inappropriate joking, stories or essays on morbid themes.
What You Can Do To Help
- Be yourself. The right words are unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.
- Let the person unload despair, ventilate anger. If given an opportunity to do this, he or she will feel better by the end.
- Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm, accepting. The person has done the right thing by getting in touch with another person.
- If the person is saying I’m so depressed, I can’t go on, ask ‘The Question’ :Are you having thoughts of suicide? You are not putting ideas in their head, you are doing a good thing for them. You are showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, that it is OK for him to share his pain with you.
- If the answer is yes, you can begin asking a series of further questions: Have you thought about how you would do it (PLAN); Have you got what you need (MEANS); Have you thought about when you would do it (TIME SET). 95% of all suicidal people will answer no at some point in this series or indicate that the time is set for some date in the future. This will be a relief for both of you.
- Simply talking about their problems for a length of time will give suicidal people relief from loneliness and pent up feelings, awareness that another person cares, and a feeling of being understood. They also get tired — their body chemistry changes. These things take the edge off their agitated state and help them get through a bad night.
- Avoid arguments, problem solving, advice giving, quick referrals, belittling and making the caller feel that has to justify his suicidal feelings. It is not how bad the problem is, but how badly its hurting the person who has it.
- If the person is ingesting drugs, get the details (what, how much, alcohol, other medications, last meal, general health) and call for emergency services for medical advice and help.
The most important pain-coping resource is the help of a trained mental health professional. A person who feels suicidal should get help, and get it sooner rather than later. Also seek medical advice from a GP. If you are struggling with this issue you can use the list below to access support.
Helplines and support groups (listed on www.nhs.uk)
- Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.
- PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.
- Depression Alliance is a charity for people with depression. It doesn’t have a helpline, but offers a wide range of useful resources and links to other relevant information.
- Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts.
- Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying.
- Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)is an excellent resource for young men who are feeling unhappy. As well as their website, CALM also has a helpline (0800 58 58 58).
Talking to someone you trust
If you don’t want to speak to someone on a helpline, you could talk to:
- a member of your family, a friend or someone you trust, such as a teacher
- your GP, a mental healthcare professional or another healthcare professional
- a minister, priest or other type of faith leader
Seeing your GP
Your GP may be able to help you with access to talking therapies. Talking therapies, such as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), are often used to help people who have suicidal thoughts and usually involve talking about your feelings with a professional.
Helping your child
If you are concerned your child may be feeling suicidal or is self-harming, the following advice may help:
- notice when they seem upset, withdrawn or irritable
- encourage them to talk about their worries, listen to them and help them find their own solutions
- keep all medicines locked away, including painkillers such as paracetamol
- suggest your child talks to their GP or a counsellor about how they feel.
Use the contact form below if you need any help or support around this.
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