Today, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day. In this article, Counselling Psychologist Dr Krystal-Jane Verasammy gives advice on signs that could indicate someone is suicidal and how you can deal with it.
Understanding the ‘inner psyche’ of a person who is suicidal
Given 13 years of experience, working with persons who experience suicidal thoughts and behaviours, I’ve learned that a person who is suicidal may feel very alone, conflicted, lost and frightened.
It may be that in a given moment they are overcome with deep feelings of sadness, despair, and emotional pain. They may be unable to think clearly of other possibilities, other solutions, other alternatives, and other ways of coping. For them, the option of suicide is a solution – however, it is a permanent solution to a temporary situation.
I’ve learned the concept of ‘hope’ is far from the horizon, or the inner psyche of the mind, for persons who feel a pervasive sense of hopelessness and despair. A person who has lost hope sees suicide as a viable option. But, suicide is very final.
If you are feeling suicidal know that these feelings, at the moment, may be temporary – you may not always feel like this. Also, know that there are other people who have been in similar positions, but somehow found a way to survive, thrive and live more fulfilling lives with help and support. They have found alternatives to suicide and are very grateful that they gave themselves a chance to live. And, you will too.
Suicide is preventable
Suicide is preventable. And we, as a society, as civil leaders in schools, hospitals, communities, Government agencies and private organisations all play a part in raising awareness on suicide and suicide prevention. Everyone has a role in suicide prevention. One such way is by spotting the signs.
Spot the signs
How do we know if someone is thinking of suicide? There are often ‘signs’ we can look for which indicate that someone could be considering ending their own life. Signs can manifest in many ways, such as:
- Ideation: someone who is suicidal will have thoughts of taking their life and express this through verbal cues such as:
“everyone will be better off without me”
“I am a burden to others”
“all of my problems will end soon”
“I don’t want to be here”
or “I want to die”
- Dark humour and joking about death, e.g. “what would happen if I’m not here?”.
- Making cryptic social media posts, “would anyone miss me if I am gone.”
- Giving away possessions or cleaning out their apartment/home
- Withdrawing socially from friends and family to lessen the impact of their death on others
- Acting impulsively
- Recklessness, e.g. driving, substance abuse, gambling
- Expressing a sense of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness
- Purposeless, loss of meaning and purpose in life
- Feeling trapped
- Physical changes, such as self-neglect, disrupted sleep patter, and/or changes in appetite (overeating or loss of appetite)
- Struggling with a mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression or eating disorders
Interestingly, unexpected positive changes in a person’s behaviour could also signal thoughts of suicide. There may be an eerie sense of marked calmness and finality in contrast to their visible pain and struggle previously. This may be an indication of intent and a plan, which gives the feeling of relief. The key is to trust your intuition. If you have a felt sense that something is not ok, use this to ask a direct question, “are you thinking of suicide?”
Occasionally, a significant event or a change in a person’s life can lead to thoughts of suicide. Changes of any nature, positive or negative, can be associated with feelings of loss. Similarly, certain events or experiences can make someone feel particularly vulnerable to thoughts of suicide.
What can I do?
If someone seems different following a life change, consider their feelings with empathy and an open mind. Avoid making assumptions about how they may feel. What’s important is that the event is significant to them, even if you can’t understand why this has caused them to feel suicidal.
Anyone can experience thoughts of suicide and there is no definitive guide on how to tell if someone is suicidal. Almost anything could be considered an indicator, so identifying these signs requires your own individual knowledge of that person and their usual behaviour.
People who are suicidal rarely admit openly how they are truly feeling due to self-stigma and societal stigma. Many of these subtle indicators seem like normal behaviours, but when they come together it can be a cry for help or a silent declaration.
Research consistently shows that asking someone if they have suicidal thoughts does not increase their risk of suicide. If someone around you shows these signs, I encourage you to ask, you may just save a life.
Lastly, it’s absolutely paramount that a person who is having suicidal thoughts or displaying suicidal behaviours get the professional help that they need and deserve. It’s important that they see a trained, qualified, experienced mental health professional.
If you are the one experiencing suicidal thoughts there is H.O.P.E. Hold On. Pain Ends. Allow others to care for you, just as you would for a friend or loved one who is suicidal.
About the author
Dr Krystal-Jane Verasammy is a Counselling Psychologist, Founder and Managing Director of Therapeutic Spaces Counselling and Psychotherapy Ltd. She holds a professional Doctorate in Counselling Psychology from the University of Roehampton, London, U.K. firstname.lastname@example.org
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