World Suicide Prevention Day (10 September)
Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously. If you think a friend or family member is considering suicide, there is plenty you can do to help save a life.
The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 million people die each year from suicide. What drives so many individuals to take their own lives? To those who are not in the grips of suicidal depression and despair, it’s difficult to understand what drives so many individuals to take their own lives. But a suicidal person is in so much pain that he or she can see no other option.
Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. Blinded by feelings of self-hate, hopelessness, and isolation, a suicidal person cannot see any way of finding relief except through death. But despite their desire for the pain to stop, most suicidal people are deeply conflicted about ending their own lives. They wish there were an alternative to suicide, but they just cannot see one.
In the majority of cases, people who are feeling suicidal are dealing with conditions that will pass in time if only they can get the help that they need. In the meantime, there is much that friends and family members can do to help people who are depressed or contemplating suicide.
Know the signs
Most suicidal individuals give warning signs or signals of their intentions. The best way to prevent suicide is to recognize these warning signs and know how to respond if you spot them. If you believe that a friend or family member is suicidal, you can play a role in suicide prevention by pointing out the alternatives, showing that you care, and getting a doctor or psychologist involved.
Prevention first involves being able to recognize the warning signs of suicide, which can include:
- Talking about suicide – Any talk about suicide, dying, or self-harm, such as “I wish I hadn’t been born,” “If I see you again…” and “I’d be better off dead.”
- Seeking out lethal means – Seeking access to guns, pills, knives, or other objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
- Preoccupation with death – Unusual focus on death, dying, or violence. Writing poems or stories about death.
- No hope for the future – Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and being trapped (“There’s no way out”). Belief that things will never get better or change.
- Self-hatred – Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and self-hate. Feeling like a burden (“Everyone would be better off without me”).
- Getting affairs in order – Making out a will. Giving away prized possessions. Making arrangements for family members.
- Saying goodbye – Unusual or unexpected visits or calls to family and friends. Saying goodbye to people as if they will not be seen again.
- Withdrawing from others – Withdrawing from friends and family. Increasing social isolation. Desire to be left alone.
- Self-destructive behaviour – Increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving, unsafe sex. Taking unnecessary risks as if they have a “death wish.”
- Sudden sense of calm – A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed can mean that the person has made a decision to attempt suicide.
Other warning signs that point to a suicidal mind frame include dramatic mood swings or sudden personality changes, such as switching from outgoing to withdrawn or well-behaved to rebellious. A suicidal person may also lose interest in day-to-day activities, neglect his or her appearance, and show big changes in eating or sleeping habits.
How you can help
These are some suicide prevention tips from various professionals and organisations:
Do not discount their feelings
While you may think that their problems are not serious enough to warrant suicidal thoughts or behaviours, what really matters is how serious they perceive them to be. If it feels important to them, then, in their mind, suicide may seem like a valid option.
Listen to what they are saying without offering judgments. Do not be dismissive of their experiences or emotions.
Most importantly, never dismiss suicidal talk or threats. If a person is making comments that seem to indicate that they are depressed or thinking of taking their own life, you should always take them seriously.
Look at suicide as a cry for help
When a person attempts suicide, this is not necessarily a sign that they want to die. Instead, it is an indicator that they are in great emotional pain, but do not know how to deal with it. Suicide has started to look like their only option to escape a situation that they do not know how to handle.
If they are still alive, however, they are desperately seeking an alternative to death and attempting suicide may be their way of reaching out and saying that they need help.
Be a good listener
Being able to talk with a caring friend and unburden yourself from your troubles can go a long way in relieving the unbearable build-up of pressure that can lead to a suicide attempt.
Being a good listener does not require any special skills. Be patient and accepting but avoid getting into an argument or trying to offer simplistic solutions. Avoid any "Have you tried X, Y, or Z" comments that focus on quick "fixes." Such attempts might come off as insensitive and seem to trivialize what a person is experiencing. Simply be there and show that you care.
Encourage them to get help for their depression
Even though some suicides may seem to come out of the blue, it is quite likely that the person had been depressed for a very long time.
Getting prompt professional assistance at the first signs of depression is a very important step in preventing suicide.
Working to take away the stigma around depression and encouraging people who are hurting to get the help that they need right away can go a long way in saving lives because the problem is dealt with before it gets too bad.
If they are in danger, do not leave them alone
If they seem to be in imminent danger of hurting themselves, do not leave them alone. Take steps to get them away from any means that they could use to hurt themselves, such as weapons or pills.
Encourage them to see a Mental Health Professional
It may take some patience and persistence, but urge them to make an appointment with a mental health professional. Once they have made the appointment, continue to maintain contact in order to encourage them to follow through with appointments and treatment plans.
Know that secrets can kill
If the person asks you to not tell anyone, be aware that you may have to break your promise in order to help them.
Do not be afraid to ask about their suicidal feelings
Talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal thoughts and feelings can be extremely difficult for anyone. But if you are unsure whether someone is suicidal, the best way to find out is to ask. You cannot make a person suicidal by showing that you care. In fact, giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings, and may prevent a suicide attempt.
Ways to start a conversation about suicide:
- “I have been feeling concerned about you lately.”
- “Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.”
- “I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.”
Questions you can ask:
- “When did you begin feeling like this?”
- “Did something happen to make you start feeling this way?”
- “How can I best support you right now?”
- “Have you thought about getting help?”
What you can say that helps:
- “You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.”
- “You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.”
- “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.”
- “When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.”
If you spot the warning signs of suicide in someone you care about, you may wonder if it is a good idea to say anything. What if you are wrong? What if the person gets angry? In such situations, it is natural to feel uncomfortable or afraid. But anyone who talks about suicide or shows other warning signs needs immediate help—the sooner the better.
Take any suicidal talk or behaviour seriously. It is not just a warning sign that the person is thinking about suicide — it is a cry for help.