Suicidal Behaviors – How to support someone feeling suicidal
"Trigger Warning": This article includes discussion about suicidal behaviors which may be disturbing to some readers. The main purpose of the article is to aware people about various ways to support someone with suicidal feeling.
Every passing day we are inundated with COVID19 updates – the number of positive cases, death toll, and the recovered cases. Governments all over the world are doing their best to issue warning signs and encouraging the public to comply with preventive measures. On the other hand though, every passing year we have seen the number of death by suicide totaling over 800,000 worldwide and we haven’t been able to bring the number down. We have lost lives to the coronavirus pandemic and we are still losing lives to suicide despite the pandemic.
Nepal is one country where the number of death by suicide has exceeded more than double the number of coronavirus related death. Since the lockdown in March till June, the country has recorded more than 1,600 cases of completed suicide.
According to the Nepal Police, a total of 2,218 people committed suicide during the 1st lockdown.Source: Nepali Sansar
Needless to say that suicide too is a silent pandemic that the world has been facing and we must educate ourselves on the preventive measures. The first step for us could be to learn the behavioral patterns of people having suicidal ideation.
So, let us look at some of the suicidal behaviors:
1. Talking / Writing about death
People with suicidal thoughts talk about death casually and lightly. Often we ignore such talks and wave it off equally casually and lightly. However, we should NEVER take such a seemingly lighthearted conversation lightly. This could be our first intervention. Extend the conversation and ask follow up questions immediately. Sometimes they will follow up their statement with “I was only kidding” but you cannot let your guards down.
You can check the person’s social media feed (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) or their blogs for more clues. See if they have been writing anything related to death, if they have written any appreciative comments on celebrity deaths… Even at the cost of being called “overreacting”, please stay alert and probe the person if they are having suicidal thoughts. Remember you can prevent the death of a loved one with early intervention.
2. Talking about hopelessness / worthlessness
Just like talking about death, they will speak about how hopeless they are and what a hopeless situation they are in. Especially in our present condition with the virus threat that is forcing us to live in isolation, maintain physical distance, loss of jobs, etc, these could make them feel more hopeless.
Watch out for things they say randomly like –
- “What’s the point,”
- “There’s no hope,”
- “My life is worthless,” and such similar utterances.
3. Loss of interest in activities
People with depression as well as the ones with suicidal thoughts may start losing interest in activities that they used to enjoy in the past.
4. Social withdrawal
Although the pandemic is forcing us indoors and into isolation, there are still ways people are staying socially active through social media. If someone you know is avoiding all forms of social interactions, you must show concern and find out the reasons they are doing so.
Experts claim that self-harm is kind of a predecessor as well as a sign of suicidal behavior. Self-harm includes self-mutilation i.e. cutting or burning. It is believed that people indulge in self-harm to relieve themselves of the pain that they feel. Therefore, keep watch on the out of the ordinary scratches or cut/burn marks in the person’s hands, arms, and even in legs or other body parts.
Sometimes people who cut/burn themselves in their arm area will wear long sleeves even when the weather is hot, to hide their scars or self-inflicted wounds. So, watch out for unusual clothing behaviors like this as well.
There are other forms of self-harm that aren’t physical of which you should also be aware of.
You can learn more about it here: SELF-HARM: INSIDE AND OUT
6. Reckless / Aggressive behavior
People with suicidal thoughts may engage in reckless behavior like driving at higher speeds, speed racing, provoking others stronger than themselves, getting into fights, etc. and might suddenly turn into adrenaline junkies.
Related: THE RESILIENT STORY OF PETE DAVIDSON
They may also show aggressive behaviors and become irritable and angry at minor incidents. If a person suddenly starts showing such behavior, you must understand that they could be covering up their true feelings and sometimes it could be suicidal feelings as well.
7. Sleeping too much or too little
A person’s sleeping behavior could be another warning especially if they are sleeping too much or too little. Often their anxiety and inner struggle can keep them awake at nights and so they have sleepless nights. On the other hand, due to depression or lack of motivation to engage in any activities could make them lay in bed at all hours. So, you must be alert about the sleeping pattern of your loved ones lest it becomes a sign of their suicidal feelings.
8. Giving prized possessions away
When a person starts giving away their much-treasured objects like expensive paintings, watches, designer handbags, jewelry, etc. without any special occasion or reason, you must question this charitable gesture. Often people with suicidal feelings believe that their possessions could help their loved ones after their death and so they start disposing of their expensive and treasured goods. While you may be thankful for such generous gestures, you must look beyond the act of charity and alert your senses. You can ask why they are giving away their prized possessions out of the blue.
9. Getting affairs in order
People who hold responsible positions at work or in the household will start informing you of where they keep all the important paperwork, documents, certificates, etc. If they have unpaid dues to collect from people, they may hand you a list with the details. They might give you their bank information, computer password, and other such private information. This is their way of getting all their affairs in order.
Many patients with chronic illnesses do this. However, if a person without any chronic symptoms does this all of a sudden, you must not ignore such behavior and instead try to find out if they are having suicidal thoughts.
10. Increased use of drugs / alcohol
When a person increases their consumption of alcohol/ drugs, this could also be considered a self-harming activity. Often people with suicidal feelings use excessive drugs/alcohol to get the strength and courage to kill themselves.
11. Buying lethal items
If a person buys guns or poisonous items, they could be doing it to kill themselves. Be alert about the items they are buying and keep an eye on their purchases.
12. Saying goodbyes
A person who has made up their mind to end their life may sound cheerful and happy. However, they may talk to you as if they are having a final conversation. They may also show affectionate behaviors and bid farewell. Often when you see such behavior in your loved ones especially after they have been gloomy and depressed for some time, you may think that the person has got over their bad times.
On the contrary, they might just be saying their final goodbyes. So be aware and cautious of such sudden change in their cheerful bearings.
Better to Err in the Side of Caution
There is no such thing as being too careful when it comes to suicide prevention. It is better to err in the side of caution than lose someone you love to suicide. So, even at the risk of being labeled nosy or bothersome, you must do your part and watch out for the above-mentioned behaviors.
Not everyone will display all the behaviors pointed out, but if they show a mixture of some of these behaviors you have to be cautious. Because remember SUICIDE IS PREVENTABLE with timely intervention.
Incase they deny their suicidal thoughts
When you feel that a person is showing some of the suicidal behaviors mentioned above, it is best to first confront them by asking them if they are having suicidal thoughts. Most of the time they may deny. However, it might not be a good idea to accept their denial right away. Ask them if they would like to speak to a therapist/counselor. If they disagree, you must speak to the therapist/ counselor and they will be able to guide you further.
In case they accept their suicidal thoughts
On the other hand, if they admit to you that they are indeed having suicidal thoughts, seek professional help immediately. Lookup for suicide helplines and call them at your earliest. In the meantime, do not leave the person alone. Whether the person is a teenager or an adult, someone must always give them company at all times. Please do not judge them or start giving them unsolicited advice because they will regret having admitted their feelings.
Once again I must emphasize the fact that Suicide is preventable. People do not die of suicide on a whim. Suicides are premeditated and people usually think about ending their lives for months or weeks and have detailed plans for execution. They almost always talk about death jokingly and/or start dropping hints of their ideation by displaying the behaviors mentioned above. It is actually a cry for help. And if you are alert enough, you can intervene at the right time and save the life of someone you love, someone around you.
Stay safe, stay alert, save life!
In case you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you may seek help from the following contacts(Nepal):
- Patan Hospital Helpline: 9813476123
- TUTH Hotline: 9840021600
If you are residing somewhere else, please seek help from the following suicide crisis lines(Worldwide):