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.
Although these statistics are alarming, you’re not the only one experiencing suicidal thoughts whilst you’re reading this. If you’re not experiencing suicidal thoughts, someone you know is. Many people have suicidal thoughts at some point in their life. Feeling this way means that you have more pain than you can manage at the moment, and that’s totally okay. I promise. I know the pain feels like it will never go away, but with the right support and time, the pain will soon pass.
Whether you suffer with suicidal thoughts or you know someone who is, its very important to know the warning signs and know how to help!
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- become increasingly withdrawn from friends, family and society in general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.
If you are suffering with suicidal thoughts:
Remember that suicide may seem like the only option but it is not. There are many other options available, you just can’t see them at the moment. The extreme pain you are experiencing at the moment can distort thinking which makes it harder to see solutions to the problems that are upsetting you. Reaching out to someone around could help as they may be able to see other options for you that you cannot see yourself and can help you solve your problems.
It’s important to realise that crises are usually temporary. Solutions are often found, feelings change, unexpected positive events occur. Give yourself the time necessary for things to change and the pain to subside.
Talking to others about suicidal feelings can be extremely difficult. I get that – I’ve been there myself. You get so scared that people are going to judge you and treat you as though you are crazy. But they won’t – most will probably understand where you’re coming from. Tell a person you trust exactly what you are saying to yourself. If you have planned a suicide, explain this to them so that they understand. Simply saying you can’t take it any more doesn’t highlight how serious things really are for you. If it’s too difficult to say out loud, try writing it down and giving it to them as a not or send an email or text whilst you are with them.
Things that may help stop you feeling suicidal:
- Talk with someone every day, preferably face to face. Though you feel like withdrawing, ask trusted friends and acquaintances to spend time with you. Or continue to call a crisis helpline and talk about your feelings.
- Make a safety plan. Develop a set of steps that you can follow during a suicidal crisis. It should include contact numbers for your doctor or therapist, as well as friends and family members who will help in an emergency.
- Make a written schedule for yourself every day and stick to it, no matter what. Keep a regular routine as much as possible, even when your feelings seem out of control.
- Get out in the sun or into nature for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Exercise as vigorously as is safe for you . To get the most benefit, aim for 30 minutes of exercise per day. But you can start small. Three 10-minute bursts of activity can have a positive effect on mood.
- Make time for things that bring you joy. Even if very few things bring you pleasure at the moment, force yourself to do the things you used to enjoy.
- Remember your personal goals. You may have always wanted to travel to a particular place, read a specific book, own a pet, move to another place, learn a new hobby, volunteer, go back to school, or start a family. Write your personal goals down.
What to avoid when you are feeling suicidal:
- Being alone. Solitude can make suicidal thoughts even worse. Visit a friend, or family member, or pick up the phone and call a crisis helpline.
- Alcohol and drugs. Drugs and alcohol can increase depression, hamper your problem-solving ability, and can make you act impulsively.
- Doing things that make you feel worse. Listening to sad music, looking at certain photographs, reading old letters, or visiting a loved one’s grave can all increase negative feelings.
- Thinking about suicide and other negative thoughts. Try not to become preoccupied with suicidal thoughts as this can make them even stronger. Don’t think and rethink negative thoughts. Find a distraction. Giving yourself a break from suicidal thoughts can help, even if it’s for a short time.
Still can’t cope? Try these below for help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Suicide prevention telephone hotline funded by the U.S. government. Provides free, 24-hour assistance. 1-800-273-TALK (8255). (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)
National Hopeline Network – Toll-free telephone number offering 24-hour suicide crisis support. 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433). (National Hopeline Network)
The Trevor Project – Crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Includes a 24/7 hotline: 1-866-488-7386.
State Prevention Programs – Browse through a database of suicide prevention programs, organized by state. (National Strategy for Suicide Prevention)
Crisis Centers in Canada – Locate suicide crisis centers in Canada by province. (Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention)
Befrienders Worldwide – International suicide prevention organization connects people to crisis hotlines in their country.
IASP – Find crisis centers and helplines around the world. (International Association for Suicide Prevention).
International Suicide Hotlines – Find a helpline in different countries around the world. (Suicide.org)
Samaritans UK – 24-hour suicide support for people in the UK (call 08457 90 90 90) and Ireland (call 1850 60 90 90). (Samaritans)
Lifeline Australia– 24-hour suicide crisis support service at 13 11 14. (Lifeline Australia)
Life will get better. I promise. I’ve been where you are.