To have the best chance at preventing suicide we need to be able to identify the warning signs that someone may be considering suicide. Raising awareness and educating yourself and others around you is the best way to do this.
According to the World Health Organisation, 800,000 people die by suicide each year, and for each of these deaths, there are at least 20 suicide attempts. Each person that is able to recognise when someone is in trouble can save at least one of these lives. The first step is understanding why suicide happens.
If you have never contemplated suicide, it may be difficult to understand why someone would take their own life. What’s important to understand is that in most cases it doesn’t feel like a choice. Those that die by suicide are usually in such pain and despair that it feels like the only way out of what they’re going through. Many try to get help or look for other ways to stop how they’re feeling, but unfortunately they don’t feel able to find an alternative.
While the reasons for suicide are complicated, there are a few factors that can increase the risk. These include:
- Suffering from a mental illness, such as depression
- Loss of job, or low job security or satisfaction
- Social isolation
- Being bullied or abuse
- Witnessing abuse
- Childhood trauma
- Having a chronic illness or disease
- Alcohol or drug addiction
- Diagnosis of a serious medical condition
- Loss of a loved one or serious relationship
- Access to means of suicide
- Difficult accessing or receiving support
These factors can enforce an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and loss.
The Warning Signs
Many people show warning signs before attempting suicide. They can include:
- Talking about suicide - discussions about killing or harming themselves, even casually
- Unusual focus on death or dying - speaking, or writing stories and poems about death
- Lack of hope - they may express that they don’t feel that things will get better or that they feel trapped
- Self-hatred - they may express that they feel like a burden to those around them
- Self-destructiveness - abusing alcohol or drugs, or behaving recklessly; this may be seen as them having a death wish
- Increasing social isolation - withdrawing from loved ones and wanting to be left alone
- Sudden change in behaviour - a decision to attempt suicide can make a severely depressed person seem suddenly calm
- Saying goodbye - saying goodbye to loved ones, sometimes through gestures
- Getting affairs in order - this could include writing a will, giving away items, sorting out their bank accounts, etc.
Any of the signs above can suggest that this person is in immediate danger and needs urgent help.
Worried About a Loved One?
Please remember that not everybody shows signs that they are suicidal, and if they do, they may be incredibly subtle. If you’re concerned about your loved one, you are advised to speak to them. The Mental Health Foundation use the word “WAIT” as a way to remember how to help someone you think may be suicidal and form a suicide prevention stategy:
- Watch out - for signs of distress and changes in behaviour
- Ask - "are you having suicidal thoughts?"
- It will pass - assure your loved one that, with help, their suicidal feelings will pass with time
- Talk to others - encourage your loved one to seek help from a GP or health professional
It’s not easy to be in a situation where you are worried for the life of someone you care about, but the most important thing you can do is listen. It’s likely that they would find it difficult to speak about what they are going through, so it’s essential that they know that you don’t judge them and that you are there for them. In order to do this, you need to be attentive and patient; give them time to open up and figure out how to express what they want to say. Avoid offering solutions, or expressing your opinions too soon as this may cause them to close up, or feel like they’re not being heard.
Read the Samaritans’ active listening tips, SHUSH, to help you with the conversation.
Are You Having Suicidal Thoughts?
If you are having a difficult time, it’s important to talk to someone about it. Letting someone know that you are struggling is an excellent place to start. If you’re not comfortable doing so with a family member or friend, there is a wide range of confidential support that can be provided to you, ranging from counselling to online chat services.
If you are having suicidal thoughts right now, remember that you don’t need to make an immediate decision. Take it one step at a time and just focus on getting through today. Try get yourself to a place where you feel safe, wherever that may be for you, and surround yourself with others if you can. Head to Rethink for a number of tips to help you get through today, and how to create your crisis plan.
You can call these NHS-approved suicide prevention helplines for free:
Childline: Call 0800 1111 - for people under 19
You can also speak to your GP, call 111, or your mental health crisis team.
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