The World Health Organisation estimates that a suicide take place every 40 seconds, and that records indicate that suicide may happen at a rate twenty times higher. Shows like 13 Reasons Why, and movies like To the Bone, (as problematic as some might find them) have brought suicide and mental health into the spotlight, but it’s difficult to tell how to help people who are suffering.
It’s easy to feel helpless when you see someone suffering from suicidal thoughts, but you don’t have to be. We spoke to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) and put together some signs that someone could be experiencing suicidal thoughts and how you can help them.
Five warning signs that indicate that a person could be contemplating suicide
1. They talk or joke around about suicide
The person may talk about dying or threaten to take their life. They may say things like, “I wish I was dead” or something more subtle, like “Nothing matters anymore”. They may even write about death, or watch movies or listen to songs about death.
2. The person seems to feel deeply depressed
They may feel hopeless, lose interest in work, have crying spells and not enjoy any of the things they used to enjoy. They may become irritable or angry a lot. The person may also isolate themselves and begin to withdraw from friends and family.
It’s important to note that depression is a “whole-body” illness that involves body, mood and thoughts. It affects how you feel about yourself, and how you think about things. Depression is in no way a sign of weakness. It cannot simply be wished away and people with depression cannot just get over it and pull themselves together.
3. They show a sudden lift in spirits
If a person showed signs of depression before but then has a sudden lift in mood, this can mean that the person is thinking about suicide and is relieved that their problems will soon end.
4. They begin preparing for death
The person may make unexpected changes in their will or give away personal possessions. They may even say goodbye.
5. They show personality change
This could be when a person experiences changes in eating, sleeping or sexual habits that are uncharacteristic. For example if a normally cheerful and sociable person becomes withdrawn, moody and irritable and loses their friendships.
If you notice any of the signs above in someone you know and care for, please take them seriously.
Five ways to help a person that is suicidal
Above everything, it’s important for a person who is suicidal to know that you care. Listen to the person, ask them questions and help them discuss their feelings.
1. Learn all you can about depression
You might be that person’s only source of information. Let them know you care and remind them that they shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty for having these thoughts. Avoid telling them things like “Get over it” or “Snap out of it.” Let them know their feelings are caused by an illness that can be treated.
2. Invite them out
They might refuse at first. If they do, ask them again later, or offer to stay in and spend time with them. Often people who are suicidal feel alone, isolated, and that no one understands them. It helps to show you care to spend time with them.
3. If you are worried they might be suicidal, ask them, and help them get help
A straightforward, caring question about suicide will not cause someone to start having suicidal thoughts. Talking about it may help them feel less alone and more understood. Listen to them unreservedly and offer reassurance. If they say they are thinking of suicide, don’t promise secrecy. Tell someone you trust immediately. You don’t have to feel like you are betraying them. It’s better to lose the relationship than to lose a life. You can tell a friend, a parent, a teacher, or call SADAG on 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393. SADAG is open seven days a week from 8am to 8pm.
4. Talk to the person about attending a support group meeting if there is one
Support groups can help the person learn that they are not alone. It also allows them to make contact with people who may understand them better.
5. Try to make sure they do not have access to things that they can injure themselves with like knives, guns, alcohol or drugs
If the person is in immediate danger, take them to a hospital, casualty or to a clinic.
These are just some ways to help a person who is suicidal. However, always remember that you cannot shoulder the responsibility for making your friend or family member well.