In honour of World Suicide Prevention Day, we talk about a topic no one likes to think about:
My dad took his own life a few years ago, and although he was depressed and always shut away in his room, none of us saw it coming.
Before the dreaded day, he had spent a couple of months at his brother’s place abroad for some rest and reflection. When he got back, he didn’t seem depressed anymore but was actually cracking jokes and seemed to be at peace with himself. We met up on a Sunday and even made plans for the following week, but before I could see any of those plans materialise, we got a call from the police.
They had found my dad in his car, unconscious, with the exhaust pipe connected to the car interior through a hose. There was no doubt about it, he had attempted suicide. After weeks on life support, his lungs gave out and his attempt succeeded.
For months after, maybe even years, I asked myself why I wasn’t more alert to his emotions, why none of us realised how close he was to taking his life. We were all in shock and just couldn’t understand why he was doing it, when things seemed like they were turning for the better. Why make plans with us if he wasn’t planning to see it through? Why act cheerful and happy when he was sad enough to end it all?
I kept wondering what would’ve happened if we were more in tune with his thoughts, or if he were better at communicating his feelings. Could he still be alive now? Or would he wallow in his depression till he did it at a later date?
While nobody should be blamed for someone’s choice to take their own lives, we could probably be better at reaching out to those that are in need. Perhaps if we learned to identify the signs of suicide, we could help save a life?
In Malaysia, suicide rates are on the rise. So pressing was the issue that the Malaysian government launched a five-year National Suicide Prevention Strategic Action Plan in 2012.
Suicide isn’t something people like talking about, but it’s about time we had a conversation around this difficult topic.
Warning Signs of Suicide
While some who are suicidal keep their plans to themselves, it is also very common for those wrestling with thoughts of suicide to exhibit clues (and cries for help) that you can pick up.
There are both physical and behavioural signs that someone might be contemplating suicide. According to the professionals at SuicideLine, these could include:
Disrupted sleeping patterns: They might start sleeping way too much, or not at all.
Loss of interest in activities that used to matter: Maybe playing the guitar and composing was everything for them, but they suddenly just dropped music stating that there wasn’t a point to it all. Things like that could be red flags.
Self-harming: You might notice self-inflicted cuts on the arm, legs etc.
Neglect of personal hygiene / appearance: Taking baths just isn’t as enticing anymore when you have no will to live.
Loss of interest in sex
Change in appetite: either eating very little or eating very much
Alcohol or drug abuse
Withdrawal from family and friends
Putting affairs in order: Like giving away prized possessions, making arrangements
Talking or writing about suicide: like suicide notes, or saying things like “it’s better if I’m gone…” etc
Acting (uncharacteristically) reckless like they have a death wish: like running red lights, engaging in risky activities
Saying goodbye: makes unexpected visits to people to say goodbye, as if they aren’t going to see them again.
Suddenly appearing calmer: This usually happens when the suicidal person comes to terms with their decision to kill themselves. You’ll notice that they seem happier and more relaxed, more at peace with themselves. Experts believe this is because suicide feels like the perfect solution for all their problems.
Common Misconceptions about Suicide
Not many of us understand a whole lot about suicide, which brings about some misconceptions. We’ll address a few of the common misunderstandings here:
1. Those who are bent on taking their own lives will do so and nothing you can say or do will stop them.
Experts believe that those who think about suicide do not really want to die, but instead want the pain to stop. Suicide is an impulsive action, and impulses can pass.
2. If they’re talking about killing themselves, they probably won’t do it.
While there are people who hide their plans, there are also people who have exhibited suicidal signals. It’s best not to ignore suicidal statements like “I feel like death’s the only way out”, or “the world will be better with me gone”, whether casually or jokingly said.
3. You shouldn’t discuss suicide with depressed people, it could give them ideas.
Suicidal people are usually relieved to be able to talk about their problems. By taking them seriously and talking about it, you would be helping them out.
4. Those who commit suicide must be nuts
Suicidal people are depressed, but they aren’t clinically characterised as psychotic. They are usually grappling with grief, distress and emotional pain, and while these are signs of mental illness, they aren’t signs of psychosis. In other words, they’re not crazy.
5. Only depressed people commit suicide, so if their emotional state improves, they’re not suicidal anymore
Many suicides occur when the suicidal person reaches a moment of clarity. This relaxed and upbeat manner usually comes after a long bout of depression, and that’s when they find the energy to go through with the deed.
What You Can Do to Help
Some people think ignoring the issue would eventually make it go away, but that couldn’t be further away from the truth.
Reach out to those who you feel are suicidal, even if you’re unsure. It’s better to overreact than to stand a chance of losing them. Give your loved one an opportunity to open up to you about the negative feelings he / she is dealing with.
Start by showing concern. Questions like these could help get the conversation started:
- “I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately. What’s up?”
- “I’m worried about you, how are things going with you?”
- “Are you OK? You don’t seem OK lately, what’s going on?”
Questions you can ask:
- “When did you start feeling this way?”
- “How can I help you now?”
- “Did anything happen that made you feel this way?”
- “Have you thought about seeking help?”
Show them you care by not being accusatory or arguing with their statements and feelings.Saying things like “that’s stupid to think like that”, “if you kill yourself, you’re just being selfish” will NOT help.
- Be patient
- Show that you care
- Reassure them that help is available
- Let them know they’re important to you
- Ask them if they’re thinking of suicide
- Offer empty words of reassurance
- Belittle their problems
- Give advice on how to fix the problems (it could be a small problem to you, but it’s big to them)
- Lecture them on the value of life
- Say suicide is wrong
- Blame yourself
At the end of the day, remember that you’re not a professional and you probably shouldn’t be dealing with this alone.
Get help from the professionals at Befrienders (03-7956 8144 / 03-7956 8145; both available 24 hours a day), all calls are confidential. If talking on the phone isn’t your thing, you can contact Befrienders by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org, or meeting up face to face after making an appointment with the Befrienders.
Have you ever grappled with thoughts of suicide or know anyone who has? How did you overcome them? Share your experience with us in the comments section below.