Suicide is a complex health issue but it can be prevented. And that starts with knowing what to look for and what to do.
People who commit suicide don’t want to die, but to end their pain. Don’t dismiss their talk of suicide as just threats. If you notice any signs that they may be thinking about harming themselves, get help.
Focuses on death. Some people talk openly about wanting to die or to commit suicide. Or they dwell on the topic of death and dying. They may research ways to kill themselves or buy a gun, knife, or pills.
Becomes withdrawn. The person avoids close friends and family, loses interest in activities and social events, and becomes isolated.
Shows swings in mood or sleep . Often, the person may be depressed, anxious, sad, or angry. They also may be very irritable, moody, or aggressive. But they can suddenly turn calm once they’ve decided to go through with the suicide. Then they may sleep a lot more or a lot less than usual.
Shows despair. The person may talk openly about unbearable pain, or feeling like they’re a burden on others.
Makes plans. The person may take steps to prepare for death, like updating a will, giving away stuff, and saying goodbye to others. Some may write a suicide note.
Drinks or takes drugs. Substance misuse raises the chance of suicide. Using a lot of drugs and alcohol may be an attempt to dull the pain or to harm themselves.
Acts recklessly. The person may take dangerous chances, like driving drunk or having risky sex.
People may also be at risk if they have:
- Mental disorders
- Addictions to alcohol or other drugs
- A serious physical illness
- A major loss (such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a relationship or job)
- Serious legal or financial problems
- A history of trauma or abuse
HOW TO HELP
- Take all suicide warning signs seriously.
- Be willing to listen. Allow the expression of feelings. Accept the feelings.
- Don’t be afraid to ask whether the person you’re concerned about is thinking of suicide, is depressed, or has problems. Talking about it won’t make the person act on their feelings. It might actually help ease suicidal thoughts — and lets you know if you need to take further action.
- Show empathy
- Take action. Remove means, such as guns, stockpiled pills, rope, sharp objects or anything the person could use to harm his or herself.
- Encourage the person to talk to a mental health professional as soon as possible. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always open. You can reach a trained counselor at 08062106493.
- Don’t be judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
- Get involved. Show interest and support. Tell the person he or she is not alone. That you care about them.
Discovering that someone you care about has tried to end their life can be a devastating experience. They will need supporting.
You may initially experience emotions such as shock and denial. Sometimes, those close to the suicidal person blame themselves for what has happened, thinking, “if only I’d watched them more closely”. The fact that someone close to you or a loved one has attempted suicide is not your fault.
UNHELPFUL REACTIONS TO A SUICIDE ATTEMPT
It is important for you to be aware of your own feelings, and avoid reacting in ways that could block communication or cause your loved one to react angrily or withdraw. Unhelpful responses include:
- Panicking: ”This can’t be happening. I don’t know what to do – what do we do?”
- Name-calling: ”You’re a real psycho.”
- Criticising: ”That was such a stupid thing to do.”
- Preaching or lecturing: ”You know you shouldn’t have done that; you should’ve asked for help.”
- Ignoring: ”If I just pretend this didn’t happen, it’ll go away.”
- Abandoning the person: ”I can’t take this, I have to leave.”
- Punishing the person: “I’m not talking to them until they straighten themselves out.”
- Dramatising: ”This is the worst possible thing you could have done!”
- Simplifying things or using a ‘quick-fix’ approach: “You just need some medication, and then you’ll feel yourself again.”
- Being angry or offended: ”I can’t believe you’d try that!”
- Making the person feel guilty or selfish: “How did you think this would make me feel?”
WHAT TO SAY TO SOMEONE WHO HAS ATTEMPTED SUICIDE
Often people report that they find it difficult to support someone who has attempted suicide because they feel they don’t know what to say. It can be hard to find the right words when you’re feeling overwhelmed and emotional yourself.
Create a ‘safe space,’ where the person feels loved, cared about, accepted, supported and understood. Letting the person know you support them, and asking open-ended questions, can help to open the lines of communication. The following suggestions may serve as prompts:
- I’m sorry you’ve been feeling so awful. I’m so glad you’re still here.
- I’m here for you. Remember that you can always talk to me if you need to.
- I want to help you. Tell me what I can do to support you.
SUPPORTING SOMEONE WHO HAS ATTEMPTED SUICIDE: WHAT TO SAY
- Be available and let the person know you will listen. It is vital to create a ‘safe space’ for the person to talk – this helps to build or re-establish trust between you and the person you are concerned about.
- Try to understand the feelings and perspective of the person before exploring solutions together.
- It may be advisable to remove possible means to suicide, including drugs and alcohol, to keep the person safe.
- Support the person in exploring and developing realistic plans and solutions to deal with their emotional pain. In order to let go of suicide as a solution, they will need to see real changes in their life. It is usually a case of making small steps in the beginning, as the person’s difficulties haven’t been created overnight.
- It is important for the suicidal person to assume as much responsibility as possible for their own welfare as they are capable of at that time. This might be difficult for you to consider, as you might not feel able to trust your loved one at the moment.
- Enlist the help of others and make sure you get family and friends to assist you to support the person.
- Remember that you do not have to fill the role of counselor, psychiatrist or doctor yourself. Encourage your loved one to utilise the professional support available to them.
- Consider assisting the person to write a safety plan that will detail the steps they need to take to keep themselves safe if they feel suicidal. Having a concrete plan in place may help both of you feel more prepared and in control about the possibility of future suicidal thoughts.
COPING WITH SUICIDAL THOUGHTS
Recovery from suicidal feelings is possible. You can learn how to manage these thoughts in the future to keep yourself safe, or you may get to a place where you no longer have these thoughts at all. Other people have recovered from suicide attempts and you can too.
Remember, even if you feel like you are alone, there are people who can help you.
Here are some ideas that can be put in place now to keep you safe in the future:
Working with your counselor or doctor, create a plan that you can follow should the suicidal thoughts return. When creating a safety plan, it is important to be as honest as you can to ensure you are comfortable with your plan and it meets your needs.
KNOW WHERE TO
As part of your safety plan, create a list of services that you can turn to when you are in trouble. Helplines can be a good place to start. It is a good idea to have your safety plan with you when you make the call because the counselor can work with your plan to help keep you safe. If you don’t have a plan, a counselor can help you create one.
LEARN THE THOUGHT TRIGGERS
Identify what sets off the negative thoughts. It may be that these thoughts are triggered when you spend a lot of time alone, when you are exposed to stressful situations, or perhaps on the anniversary of a painful event. Whatever the trigger is, make use of the safety plan when your triggers arise before you start to have the suicidal thoughts.
LEARN SOME RELAXATION TECHNIQUES
This can be a breathing exercise, progressive muscle relaxation or meditation. These activities can help to calm you and distract you from the intense thoughts.
DISTRACTIONS AND STRESS RELIEVERS
Write down some activities that you may find helpful in distracting you from the intrusive negative thoughts. These might include the following:
- Listening to uplifting music
- Reading a book
- Drawing, sketching or painting
- Going for a walk
- Take time out to treat yourself to a small thing you ordinarily enjoy, and savour it
TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF AFTER A SUICIDE ATTEMPT
Now more than ever it is important to look after yourself. For a while at least, life might feel dreary, uncomfortable or strange. Establishing a routine can help you to get through this difficult period. Eating well, getting enough sleep and doing some physical activity will help improve your mood. You can start introducing more things into your routine once you feel ready.
Should you continue to have suicidal thoughts, it is important that you get help. If you’re already receiving professional help or support, it’s important that you stay in contact with these services, particularly if you’re feeling distressed. If you feel you need some extra support, you may wish to consider calling a crisis line +234 806-210-6493
You could also reach out to a trusted friend or family member. It’s very important that you are honest with the person who is helping you. Let them know how you’re feeling, and what you think you need to ensure you get the best possible help.
Recovery is different for everyone and it may take time, but it is possible.