Suicide: Prevention Begins with Awareness Education
Here is information on suicide prevention when dealing with it or knowing someone who is considering it. This will help educate you on the warning signs and deciphering whether or not they’re dealing with depression or other illnesses. Please refer to our other useful resources on the different areas of psychology for your learning and research needs.
Suicide accounts for a large number of deaths in cultures the world over. Such high rates might in part be because the subject of suicide is still largely frowned upon. A person contemplating suicide feels tremendously isolated thinking that the problems he is going through are not okay to talk about. Likewise, someone close to him who senses he is in danger of killing himself might feel it’s not alright to directly ask him about suicidal thoughts he may be having.
The prevention of suicide must begin with awareness education so that people can recognize, talk to, and find assistance for others in crisis.
Why would someone consider suicide?
A person who has suicidal thoughts may be trying to cope with an overwhelming stress or trauma. Factors that trigger such feelings include:
- Substantial change in or loss of an important relationship
- Death of a loved one
- Loss of a job
- Strenuous financial problems
- Feelings of low self-worth
- Emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or neglect
- Transition to an unfamiliar environment
- Disillusionment over global crises
At times, people are able to ride through the severity of such situations, either with the passing of time and a gradual feeling that the enormity has lessened, or by being able to reach out for help. In some instances, though, an individual feels so lonely that it is difficult to think of who might be good to talk to. It may not occur to him either that there are people nearby who do care, or that unburdening himself to someone else is an option. In addition, many people sense a kind of social stigma associated with feeling mentally or emotionally unstable. The idea of opening up and making oneself vulnerable can be unbearably frightening.
Are suicidal people mentally ill or depressed?
Since traumatic events can easily launch anyone into acute distress, a person might not necessarily have mental health issues or even a tendency toward depression. However, most people who try suicide are depressed to some degree. A woman who is generally stable emotionally but is faced with overwhelming circumstances will naturally experience a reactive depression, which may be short-lived once she makes her way through the most difficult period following a trauma. Another who suffers from an endogenous depression—a genetic mood disorder and diagnosable mental illness—is more prone to becoming severely depressed.
Both types of depression present in a similar way, making them difficult to separate, and some people may have a combination of the two. Regardless of what kind of depression someone is experiencing, the crucial point is that they find someone to talk to immediately if they are exhibiting some of the warning signs listed below.
How do I recognize someone considering suicide?
Some people in crisis will send out warning signals. Most likely they do not really want to die, they just want the extreme pain they are experiencing to disappear. An individual might give overt signals—literally cries for help—in the hopes that he will be acknowledged and saved. Signals may also be extended unconsciously. When so much turmoil broils inside and so much mental energy is spent in misery, clues might slip out unconsciously, without the person intending it. In some instances, when a person tends to be emotionally closed and private, a strong conscious effort may be made for avoidance, especially if this person does not wish to be rescued. If no obvious signals are made, look closely at the person’s behavior and take notice of changes in lifestyle.
Here are possible indicators that someone is considering suicide, though other behaviors may exist as well.
- Loss of energy or decline in activity levels
- Distancing from friends and loved ones
- Sleeplessness or too much sleeping
- Seeming very sad or hopeless
- Making comments that show a very low self esteem
- Changes in eating habits
- Loss of interest in work or hobbies
- Giving possessions away or putting financial documents in order
- Making amends over past grievances
- Previously attempting suicide
- Making references to suicide, through comments or notes
How can I help?
If a deep sadness and distress is suspected, the only way to know if a person is considering suicide is to ask. Have the courage to do this, even though it may seem too direct. The person in trauma may experience a sense of relief that finally someone is willing to talk about it with her. Tell her that it’s okay to talk about how she feels; tell her that it’s okay to feel so terrible that she might even consider suicide. Tell her clearly that you do not want her to die. Such openness may have the effect of taking away some of her distress. Knowing that someone is listening and caring will make her less likely to attempt suicide.
One tactic that may help is creating an improvised “no-suicide” contract. Have the person sign it, and promise that if he ever feels so badly that he thinks he’d like to commit suicide, he must talk first with each of the people he lists on the contract, one by one. It makes sense to form a list ahead of time, thinking of who to call upon when things get bad, when it will be more difficult to think clearly and objectively.
What resources are available?
If someone you care for tells you they are considering suicide, take the time to listen. Then find help in the community. Do not try to solve it on your own. If it seems that danger could be imminent—if the person is acting with an intensity that makes you think they might try something very soon to hurt themselves—try to get them to an emergency room.
Often, people who feel suicidal don’t know that help is sometimes just around the corner or that a caring voice is just one phone call away. Each community has supporting agencies and hotlines established expressly for suicide, equipped with resources and personnel who are trained to talk gently with people in crisis. If you are making a call for someone you love, or if you are considering suicide yourself, be persistent in calling until you find a person on the other end of the line to speak with. Most agencies are so responsive that someone should answer immediately.
Once a connection can be made with a hotline service, counseling is imperative for a suicidal person, to have the opportunity to express feelings in a safe setting to a sensitive, listening counselor. Talking it out will help reduce the sense of isolation and stress. The professional may also be able to make a diagnosis if mental illness is present, and prescribe helpful medication. Counselors are trained to be understanding and compassionate, and pulling some of the distressed person’s burden away may help on the road to a coping recovery and strength.
What of people who have lost a loved one to suicide?
Compared to the loss of someone due to other death causes, a suicide can be especially painful to those left behind who were closest. For centuries, through many cultures and religions, suicide has carried with it a stigma to such a degree that those who committed suicide could not even be buried among other family members. This stigma is still present today, if only in the consciences of those who have lost someone to suicide. If someone was in a close relationship to a person who completed suicide, he may feel as if he is being judged by others over whether or not he could have prevented it from happening, or whether he was somehow a direct or indirect influence on the person’s ultimate decision to die. He may also blame himself (unnecessarily), and feel overwhelmed with guilt. Thus, the length and intensity of this survivor’s grief is often greater than usual.
Survivors do often discover that others treat them differently following a suicide. Again, because of the taboo nature of the subject, would-be consolers might be more reticent in offering support simply out of feeling uncomfortable, not knowing what to say to the survivor. As a result, the griever experiences isolation and loneliness; the healing process takes much longer. The survivor may avoid relationships, afraid of being hurt and left behind again.
Just as there are hotlines and counseling services for people with suicidal feelings, so are there for the survivors of suicide.