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Suicide: Spotting the signs

TW: Suicide/Loss of life

Suicide is a growing cause of death in the modern world. Anyone who has read Johann Hari’s ‘Lost Connections’ will understand the impact modern living can have on mental health. The isolation experienced (and still being experienced) due to COVID 19 lockdowns has had an exponential impact on global mental health.

As humans, we are not built to live in isolation. Our brains are not designed to sit in front of a screen, day in, day out- alone. We’re a tribal group, we need connection and community to sustain us. Over the last two years, the majority of people across the world have been separated from friends and family, denied these vital connections. And people are struggling.

Lifeline gets a call every 30 seconds. More people die by suicide each year than in road accidents. Suicide was the fourth leading cause of death in 15–29 year-olds world-wide in 2019. 78% of all deaths from suicide are men. This is more than a concern, it’s an epidemic.

It can be hard to tell if someone close to us is contemplating suicide. Many of us wear masks so effectively that it can be impossible to know what’s going on underneath. Some changes in a persons’ behaviour could include:

● Social withdrawal

● Rapid weight changes

● Insomnia

● Giving away of possessions

Some verbal indications could include:

● Believing they are a burden to others

● Saying they feel worthless

● Expressing a wish to die

Vulnerable high-risk groups can be:

● People experiencing abuse/violence

● People who are isolated

● People who are in crisis/conflict

● Refugees/migrants

● People in the LGBTI community

By far the greatest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.

These lists are not exhaustive, nor are they binary. Just because someone is showing some of these symptoms does not necessarily mean they are suicidal.

While the link between suicide and mental health issues are well documented, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis. If you know someone who is going through financial problems, a relationship breakdown or chronic illness- encouraging them to speak about this can really help. Often in these moments of crisis, if people feel there is no one who can help or who will understand, it can be a catalyst. Being aware there is always a ‘way out’ can be a massive encouragement in a time of need.

It can be challenging to speak to someone who you suspect might be suicidal. Often people will deny how they feel and tell you they are ‘fine’. If you’re going to have a conversation with them it’s best to do so in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted such as their house or on a drive.

It’s best to ask direct questions, such as, ‘How are you really?’ and ‘Have you been having suicidal thoughts?’. The main thing to remember is to not be judgemental, and not to try to tell them off or minimise their feelings. Statements like ‘sure what do you have to be depressed about’ and ‘things could always be worse’ are likely to end the conversation, silence the person, but not help the situation.

It’s important to convey that you are there to listen and to find a solution together. Communicate that you really care about their welfare. Phrases like ‘you can tell me anything’ and ‘I’m here, we can get through this’ can be powerfully helpful. You must be prepared to listen, even if it’s hard to hear, or makes you upset.

One of the most important things in dealing with someone who’s suicidal is to find out if they have a plan. Asking ‘have you thought about how/when you would kill yourself?’ and ‘have you taken any steps towards carrying out the plan?’ can help determine how immediate the threat is and how much thought they have put into following through. These are uncomfortable, but important questions to ask.

If when speaking to someone, they do express an immediate desire to cause self-harm please do not hesitate to contact your local mental health team emergency line or A&E department. You are not overreacting. If the person is in immediate danger, seek immediate help.

There are also crisis emergency text lines to provide to someone who is having a hard time but not in immediate danger. Because a lot of people would feel too uncomfortable speaking about their issues over a call or may not be in a safe space to talk, these lines provide short-term support for people who are feeling overwhelmed or are having difficulty coping. In Australia if you text 0477131114 you will be connected to a crisis supporter. If not, call 131114 to speak to someone. These conversations are confidential. In the UK, you can text ‘shout’ to 85258 to be connected to a similar support. In Ireland it’s ‘Hello’ to 50808.

Having said all that- it is so important to qualify that if you have lost someone you love to suicide; it was in no way your fault. Suicide is a complex and weighty issue that has no quick fix. The reasons people feel ending their life is necessary can rarely be resolved instantly. It is not a weight for you to carry. Dealing with suicide is hard enough to cope with, without placing blame on yourself or anyone else. Questions such as “what did I miss?”, “How could I have prevented it?” are common. It is common that a person who has decided to suicide, appears to be in a great place mentally and emotionally, so it can be easy to be blindsided by it. It is not your burden to carry the weight of what happened. Suicide is a hard act to accept. Allowing yourself to grieve and let go of responsibility can be the first step towards taking care of your own emotional and mental well-being, following such a trauma.

And lastly if this is you...if you have clicked on this article because this is something that has been on your mind to do. Please, speak to someone. Anyone. You are so loved. So valuable. Uniquely important. Nothing you are going through or have done is impossible to move past. There is hope and a future for you. There are so many people who care and really want to help you. So please, tell someone you are not ok. You are not a burden. The world is a better place with you in it. Please, reach out for support. There is hope, and you deserve a future.

For 24/7 and emergency resources please click here


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