Suicide prevention: There are clues that a depressed loved one is contemplating suicide. If you suspect they are, here are ideas for you to help prevent it.
30,000 deaths last year were due to suicide in the United States. The number one cause of suicide is untreated depression. It is estimated that this figure may be 3 times that number due to inaccurate reporting, i.e. suicides recorded as accidental instead. Healthy people do not kill themselves. Depression can alter a person's thinking, so they don't think rationally. They may not know they can be helped. Their illness can cause thoughts of hopelessness and helplessness, which may then lead to suicidal thoughts. In order to save lives, it's critical to recognize the warning signs of depression. There is still stigma associated with this illness which prevents public education and early treatment for sufferers. The topic of suicide has always been taboo.
It can be very frightening to hear a friend or loved one say they want to die. Even to hear a complete stranger say these words is hard. But, not every suicidal person will actually make the statement that he or she wants to die. Some clues that the person may be contemplating suicide may include:
Deepening despair in which the person becomes uncommunicative and withdrawn.
Talking or joking about suicide.
Making statements about being reunited with a deceased loved one.
Talking about experiencing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness. Example: "Everyone would be better off without me."
Preoccupation with death like writing letters or leaving notes referring to death or "the end".
Suddenly more contented, or more at peace. If the person is emerging from a disabling period out of depression, he may now have the energy to end life. Be alert to evidence of final arrangements.
Loss of interest in things one cares about.
Unusual visiting or calling people one cares about: saying good-byes.
Giving possessions away, making arrangements, setting one's affairs in order.
Risk-taking behavior (reckless driving/excessive speeding, carelessness around bridges, cliffs or balconies, or walking in front of traffic). Having several accidents resulting in injury. Close calls or brushes with death.
While this list is not all-inclusive, it can provide general clues as to the suicidal individual’s mindset.
But, remember, because an individual is doing these things does not mean his mind is made up. He or she can be stopped! This person is merely focusing on ending the pain. You can help him or her to get much needed assistance so that life will be attractive again. If he or she knows that the pain may stop, that there is hope, he or she may then choose life.
If someone you know or love is behaving in a depressed manner or is acting out any of the above clues, there are things you can do to help. If you suspect that he or she is contemplating ending his or her life, ask. While this may be uncomfortable to you in trying to find the best way you would like to broach the subject, the easiest way to do it is simply to let the individual know that you care about him/her and ask if he/she is considering suicide. Just be yourself. Show that you care by talking to them, holding them while they cry, or whatever else is necessary. Do not be concerned that you are putting the idea into his/her head, because generally depressed individuals have thoughts of suicide/death. However, this does not mean the he/she has formulated a plan. By asking, you are showing the person that you do care, and that you are open to discussion without passing judgment on the individual’s feelings. Fortunately most depressed people will either say that they have no definite plans or that they are too frightened to do it themselves. Although this is still a serious situation, you know that they are probably not in imminent danger of hurting themselves. Take their words as a plea for help and proceed with helping them to get the assistance that they need. Urge them to seek professional help as soon as possible.
If the reply to your question is yes, ask if he/she has a plan, method, or means in mind. Does the method sound deadly? Is it available such as pills to overdose with, or a gun or knife? Try to determine if the individual has planned a time... today, next week, or some other future time. Listen without trying to be judgmental. Allow the person to share his/her ideas/plans with you. This will not only help you in preventing the person from going through with the plan at hand, it will provide the information that you will need to share with the professionals who may need to help your friend or loved one. Do not try to challenge or dare the person to go through with the act thinking that it will scare him/her out of the idea. . Avoid trying to offer quick solutions or belittling the person. His perception of the problem and how much he is hurting over it is what counts. Rational arguments do little good to persuade a person when they are in this state of mind. Instead offer your empathy and compassion for what he is feeling. Never call a person's bluff, or try to minimize his/her problems by telling him/her that he/she has everything to live for or how hurt their loved ones would be. This will only increase the guilt and feelings of hopelessness. Reassure your friend that there is help, that these feelings are treatable, and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Do not hesitate to contact the authorities. They may tell you that you are making them angry or destroying your friendship. Just remember that you may permanently lose their friendship if you don't.
It is ok for you to say things like, "I can tell you're really hurting", and "I care about you and will do my best to help you." A supportive person can mean so much to someone who's in pain. Keep them talking so that they will reduce the emotional burden they are carrying. It will also give them time to calm down. The longer you keep them talking, the more you can take the edge off their desperation, making it harder for them to act on their feelings.
If you believe the individual to be merely seeking attention, do not take the chance of your thoughts proving to be not true. Always, always take any talk or suggestions of suicide seriously. Your next step is to try to help your friend/loved one to get professional help. Although he/she may be asking for you to promise to hold this in your confidence and not to repeat it, let him/her know that you can not keep this a secret. Remember, this has to be a response to a deadly issue, and not a time to worry about a test of your friendship. Arrange for professional intervention. Treat suicidal threats as just as much of an emergency as a heart attack. Call 911 or a suicide hot line. The national suicide hotline phone number is 1-900-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433). Take him/her to a crisis center, emergency room, mental health center, psychiatrist’s office, or family doctor’s office. Under no circumstances should the person be left alone. Keep your eyes on the individual constantly, and if at all possible, try to stay within arm’s length distance of the person at all times. Do not allow the person to even go to the bathroom by himself. If the threat is serious, there are many innovative ways that numerous items in the bathroom may be used to assist him/her in taking his/her life. But, remember there is no certain way to prevent suicide.
Unfortunately, you may not be able to control the outcome, despite your most intense of efforts. Don't blame yourself. You did all that you could. This person ultimately made their own choices, for good or bad. If you were very close to the person, it may be wise to seek out grief counseling and suicide survivor support groups. In addition, dealing with a suicide threat is very stressful, whether the individual succeeded in taking his/her own life or not. Seek assistance to help yourself afterwards. Talk to a trusted friend or pastor about what you've been through and how you feel about it.
Written by Linda Morris - © 2002 Pagewise