Every suicide is a tragedy, and while it may be difficult to understand completely why anyone might come to this decision, it typically involves unbearable emotional, physical, or/and mental anguish.
According to the WHO, more than 700,000 people die from suicide every year, not counting the number of attempted suicides, most of whom are from low- to middle-income countries.
Poor mental health, such as depression and substance abuse disorders, are major risk factors for suicide. However, many suicides happen in moments of crisis when there is a breakdown in the ability to deal with stressors.
In addition, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behaviours. Suicide rates are high amongst vulnerable groups who experience discrimination, such as refugees and migrants; indigenous peoples; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and prisoners. By far, the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.
People contemplating suicide might feel:
- Sadness or grief
- Intense guilt
- Rage, or a desire to seek revenge
- That they are a burden to others
- That they have no worth or value
- That life is not worth living
- That they are trapped, either physically or emotionally
- That things will never get better
- Intense physical or emotional pain
Warning signs to look out for include:
- talking about wanting to die
- talking about feeling trapped, feeling hopeless, or in unbearable pain
- talking about being a burden to others
- withdrawing from family and friends
- using drugs and alcohol more often
- eating or sleeping more or less than normal
- acting in an anxious, agitated, or reckless manner
- experiencing severe mood shifts
The lists above are not exhaustive as not everybody contemplating suicide might exhibit symptoms nor outwardly express their distress. The best way to ascertain if someone might be contemplating suicide is to break the taboo and talk about it.
How to be there for someone who might be suicidal
1. Be direct
There is a myth that talking about suicide can cause others to experience suicidal thoughts. Research has shown this is not true and that acknowledging suicide may decrease the risk by allowing people to share their struggles.
Ask questions like:
“Are you thinking about suicide?”
“How have you been feeling?”
“Do you ever feel so bad you think about suicide?”
“Have you been having suicidal thoughts?”
The goal is to connect, engage in conversation, validate their feelings, and give the person a moment to express themselves. Speaking about it often relieves the pressure of the intrusive and negative thoughts affecting them and provides them with a chance to ask for help.
Bear in mind that talking about suicide does not cause people to kill themselves; not talking about suicide might.
2. Keep calm
The answer might be “yes” when asking someone if they are thinking of hurting themselves, but the intention is to help them feel less alone and to build a human connection with them. Take them seriously. Focus on listening rather than saying things that might cause them guilt, such as listing out people who would miss them when they are gone. This might make them feel worse and solidify the thought that their loved ones would be better off without them.
For someone in crisis, follow this up with:
“Do you have a plan?”
“Have you thought about the way you might do so?”
“Do you have a time frame?”
The risk of suicide is higher when there is a plan, as this means the intrusive thoughts have progressed beyond thoughts of morbidity. Acknowledge the trust it takes for this person to share their thoughts and validate their feelings without accepting that this will be the outcome.
Some good responses are:
“I'm here for you”
“What can I do?”
“How can I help you this time?”
“Can we speak to someone together?”
3. Call for help
Call the emergency care line or take them to the emergency room at a hospital if they are in immediate danger. Do not leave them alone. Although it is important to keep their trust, do not keep their planned method of suicide a secret, as it can put their life at risk. It is essential to let medical professionals or caregivers know how they intend to end their life so that they can remove any sources of danger.
People who consider suicide do not always want to die. Often, people consider suicide because they feel hopeless and cannot think of a way out of their current situation. Intervention can help a person regain a sense of hope or show them another perspective.
Suicide is preventable. 80-90% of people who commit suicide reveal their plans to people around them before proceeding. It is a common misconception that people who talk about or attempt suicide do so for attention when suicidal thoughts or behaviours indicate internal pain. Even if a person does not intend to kill themselves, talking about suicide or acting in a self-destructive manner can suggest that they need mental health support.
Stigma, particularly surrounding mental disorders and suicide, means many people thinking of taking their own life or who have attempted suicide are unable to seek or get the help they need. But many people are able to heal from their suicide attempts and mental condition and move on to healthy lives. Learn the signs of suicide, how to respond, and where to access help.
If you or someone you know struggles with depression, anxiety, high stress, or suicidal ideation, please reach out for immediate support. Free access to mental health professionals is available immediately, 24/7:
Alternatively, schedule a remote or online schedule a remote or online therapy session with Naluri’s Mental Health Coaches and expert counsellors to talk through problems and thoughts that may be causing negative feelings and emotions.