How can you Help Someone who is Suicidal?

Written by Dr. Furkhan Ali 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one person dies by suicide every forty seconds. As shocking as this statistic is, what is even more bothering is that for every person who dies, there are twice as many who attempt suicide. These numbers indicate a suicide epidemic world-wide. 
In India, the numbers are even more troubling. Suicide is the number one cause of death amongst youth, with young women being a particularly vulnerable population. We keep hearing of farmer suicides in the news on a fairly regular basis. Although tackling this problem needs intervention at every level, and a multi-pronged strategy, there is plenty one can do at an individual level to identify and help a loved one who might be at a risk of suicide.

Warning signs:

  • A significant number of people who die by suicide have an underlying mental disorder, depression and alcohol use disorders being the most common. Identifying signs of depression and motivating the person to seek professional help will prevent further worsening and reduce risk of suicide.
  • Numerous activities are associated with suicidal potential, which can alert a caregiver. Some can be overt and obvious acts like purchasing a gun, rope, pesticides or other potentially lethal items. Hoarding sedatives or insulin in quantities above the prescription from a doctor or writing a suicide note should raise a red flag for caregivers. There are various subtle acts like making a will, getting their personal and professional affairs together, unexpectedly visiting friends and family members as a way of bidding goodbye that should be seen as a warning sign and would need to be further investigated.
  • A study found that people tend to visit their primary care physicians more in the three weeks prior to attempting suicide. People with suicidal ideas also display a few characteristic signs such as preoccupation with death; a sense of isolation and withdrawal from friends or family members. They exhibit emotional distance from their loved ones, with an inability to enjoy humour or feel happy.
  • An excessive focus on the past, tending to dwell on losses and defeats, and anticipating no future is common. People who consider suicide seem to assume that others, and the world would be better off without them. What invariably tends to push them off the proverbial ledge is a strong sense of hopelessness and helplessness. As Andy Drufresne from the movie ‘Shawshank Redemption’ says: “Hope is a good thing, may be best of things and no good thing ever dies.” Hope is one thing that drives humans and wills them to fight and when one has lost hope there is no purpose to living.

What can be done?

It is important to be aware about what is going on in the lives of your loved ones. Identifying stressors in personal and professional life is vital. Additionally, help them cope with the situation. There is a need to rediscover communication. With the advent of social media, we are losing personal touch. A personal conversation, holding a hand, a hug and a kiss can be a powerful tool for healing in itself. Early identification of mental illnesses and seeking professional help is very important. For a loved one who may be living with a mental illness and having suicidal ideas, round the clock monitoring and removal of potentially lethal items from their reach is recommended.

Professionals or even a loved one can get into a ‘No-Suicide contract’ with the individual; it could be a written agreement with the promise that the individual shall discuss any and all self-harm thoughts with a professional, shall not act on them and instead seek professional help. There are a number of suicide helplines available which can be utilised when one wishes to seek emergency help

It is important to remember that suicide is preventable, and a timely intervention could save lives.

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