TRIGGER WARNING: Suicide
It was the middle of the night. And the fourth night that week that I was up at 1am, unable to sleep. I was reading package inserts to see the dosage I would need for overdose. And bemoaning the fact that based on the number of tablets I had, I would only damage my internal organs, and be forced to face the world anyway.
I’m no stranger to suicidal thinking. I have never ever attempted suicide, but I know far too many people who have, and of too many people who have committed suicide.
When it comes to suicide, people are confused by the act, think that it’s selfish, question what would drive someone to take their own life? It’s considered an act of weakness for people who are not brave enough to face the trials of life.
And in contradiction, when we hear someone talk about how they want to die, or they want to commit suicide, we brush it off as attention-seeking behaviour. If nothing else, please give these people attention. Rather a few minutes of attention to hear what is bothering someone, than a lifetime of missing someone who saw no way out other than taking their own life. And we are always left wondering why a person would take such extreme measures to end emotional pain. So let’s have these conversations before we have to grieve a loss.
Some things to understand about suicide:
- It’s not death that the person desires, but the end of deep emotional pain.
- The pain from challenging life circumstances is ongoing and there seems to be no end in sight.
- Deep feelings of hopelessness
- A deep-seated sense of loneliness and feeling alone in the world.
- Self-hatred so deep that the world would seemingly be better without them.
- Having nothing to live for because of perceived failures.
- A sense that death is the only escape.
- Certain medications have been known to cause suicidal thinking.
What can we do if we sense our loved ones are feeling suicidal, or if someone we know expresses suicidal thinking:
Help them seek professional help. Either psychologists, psychiatrists, suicide helplines.
Listen to them. Without trying to give advice, just listen. Accept how they are feeling – it doesn’t mean you are condoning the act of suicide, but that you are condoning them having very difficult feelings.
Anyone suffering with suicidality needs to be seen and heard, and shown that they are valuable and that the world needs them. Someone considering suicide, might feel like there is no one in the world who cares about them, and it may take just that one person to listen to make a difference.
The conversation you have needs to be matter-of-fact. If you react with emotion, like daring them to do it in anger, or acting shocked, or being judgemental, it will create further distance and feelings of loneliness. At this stage, this person needs to feel connected, and not experience any further challenging emotions.
The person may experience shame for feeling this way, but don’t let them swear you to secrecy. You need to seek help from a professional. Ask them if you can contact a family member.
If someone has expressed suicidal ideation, do not leave them alone, and do not leave them with the means to commit suicide. In that moment, seek the help that they need, through a suicide hotline, contacting hospitals, psychiatric facilities.
Show them that they are not alone in the world, and that you are there to listen to them. Sometimes that’s all someone needs is one person who shows them that they are wanted and needed.
Risks and warning signs:
- Talking about death or suicide
- Giving away possessions
- Change in behaviour
- Feeling worthless/hopeless/helpless
- Not experiencing belonging
- Sleep disruption
- Feeling trapped
- Feeling like a burden
- Isolating from friends and family and withdrawing from activities
- Calling people to say Goodbye
If you are experiencing suicidal ideation, first and foremost, seek professional help, or contact a helpline. And, if you are prone to suicidal thinking, it’s a good idea to have a safety plan for yourself:
- Know the warning signs, of how your mood, thoughts and behaviours change
- Have a list of people you can turn to (in the depths of emotional pain and loneliness, we sometimes forget who those people are)
- Make a list of activities to distract yourself (if you are feeling hopeless you could struggle to think of anything other than suicide)
- Make sure that you don’t have anything that can be used to commit suicide
- Make a list of relaxation techniques (e.g yoga, meditation, deep breathing, dancing)
- Make a list of professionals, and helplines you can contact.
At the end of the day, suicide is preventable, and it is important to have transparent conversations with loved ones whom you think are at risk. And if you are someone experiencing suicidal ideation, know that there is help out there, and it’s not weak to feel suicidal, nor is it weak to seek help.
SADAG contact details:
0800 21 22 23 (8am-8pm)
0800 12 13 14 (8pm-8am)