I agree that suicide is complex. It usually occurs gradually, progressing from suicidal thoughts, to planning, to attempting suicide and finally dying by suicide. The attitude towards suicide however always amazes me. One person dies every 40 seconds by suicide worldwide – that is an estimate of 1440 deaths by suicide a day! By 2020, the rate of death will increase to every 20 seconds. 2880 people will be dying of suicide a day… How can there be such a negative stigma surrounding suicide when it claims so many lives in simply a day? Suicide has now become one of the three leading causes of death among those aged between 15-44.
More than 4,000 children under the age of 14 tried to take their own lives in the UK in the year 2007.
During my first suicide attempt at the age of 11, I didn’t have any suicide ideation. I had been bullied for months, probably over a year, and although I felt quite down and isolated, I didn’t feel as though I wanted to die. It was only when I was on a ski holiday with my bullies that things started to turn bad. I was sat on a ski lift with two of the people who had bullied me, and of course there was no escape. The taunting, the physical abuse, the laughter…it was all too much. My suicide ideation happened in a blink of an eye. One minute I was feeling angry at these people for being so mean and the next minute I was lifting up the bar of the ski lift ready to jump. At 11 years old, that’s a pretty scary thing to experience. I can’t remember if I knew about suicide before this attempt…or whether my mind somehow knew what to do. All I knew is that I was trapped and that was the only way of escape.
After that first attempt, suicide ideation has never gone away. Thinking about suicide became a daily task some months, but other months I wouldn’t think about it at all. As I’ve gotten older, the suicidal thoughts have become more frequent. It’s difficult, because suicide should not be ignored. Suicide should not receive negative reaction. A child – or even an adult – should be able to approach someone confidently and tell them they are thinking about suicide. Why are suicidal thoughts downplayed? The time I told my doctor I was feeling suicidal was unreal…her response? “We haven’t got any appointments for another 3 weeks.” I know that you cannot see suicidal thoughts, but they are just as serious as a broken leg.
It can be very difficult and daunting to reach out and ask for help when it comes to suicide ideation…it can be even more difficult when a loved one or someone you know unexpectedly takes their own life. That is why I’d like to educate you on the signs and symptoms of suicide, so that help can be spread to all those suffering.
A person may be at risk of attempting suicide if they:
- complain of feelings of hopelessness
- have episodes of sudden rage and anger
- act recklessly and engage in risky activities with an apparent lack of concern about the consequences
- talk about feeling trapped, such as saying they can’t see any way out of their current situation
- Self harm – including misusing drugs or alcohol, or using more than they usually do
- noticeably gain or lose weight due to a change in their appetite
- become increasingly withdrawn from friends, family and society in general
- appear anxious and agitated
- are unable to sleep or they sleep all the time
- have sudden mood swings – a sudden lift in mood after a period of depression could indicate they have made the decision to attempt suicide
- talk and act in a way that suggests their life has no sense of purpose
- lose interest in most things, including their appearance
- put their affairs in order, such as sorting out possessions or making a will
If you notice any of these warning signs in a friend, relative or loved one, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling.
Also share your concerns with your doctor or a member of their care team, if they are being treated for a mental health condition.
Offering support to someone who’s feeling suicidal
One of the best things you can do if you think someone may be feeling suicidal is to encourage them to talk about their feelings and to listen to what they say.
Talking about someone’s problems is not always easy and it may be tempting to try to provide a solution. But often the most important thing you can do to help is listen to what they have to say.
If there is an immediate danger, make sure they are not left on their own.
Do not judge
It’s also important not to make judgements about how a person is thinking and behaving. You may feel that certain aspects of their thinking and behaviour are making their problems worse. For example, they may be drinking too much alcohol.
However, pointing this out will not be particularly helpful to them. Reassurance, respect and support can help someone during these difficult periods.
Asking questions can be a useful way of letting a person remain in control while allowing them to talk about how they’re feeling. Try not to influence what the person says, but give them the opportunity to talk honestly and openly.
Open ended questions such as “Where did that happen?” and “How did that feel?” will encourage them to talk. It’s best to avoid statements that could possibly end the conversation, such as “I know how you feel” and “Try not to worry about it”.
Getting professional help
Although talking to someone about their feelings can help them feel safe and secure, these feelings may not last. It will probably require long-term support to help someone overcome their suicidal thoughts.
This will most likely be easier with professional help. Not only can a professional help deal with the underlying issues behind someone’s suicidal thoughts, they can also offer advice and support for yourself.