For 24 hour telephone crisis support, phone Lifeline: 13 11 14
By Spencer D Gear
In my 34 years as a youth, family and general counsellor (retired in January 2011), among the most difficult counselling sessions I have had, have been with those parents who have come for counselling after the suicide death of one of their children. Before my retirement, I worked 17 years straight in youth, family, gambling and marriage counselling.
I urge all to do everything they can to recognise the warning signs of suicide and to intervene before this tragedy happens. This is one of the few times I broke confidentiality in counselling, when someone told me that there was a person thinking of suicide. I began all new counselling sessions with this statement: “What you say here, stays here. However, you need to know that I will break confidentiality under two circumstances: (1) If a person is speaking of suicide, and (2) If children are being abused or neglected. In my many years of professional counselling for counselling agencies, I had to do this on a few occasions.
So, what are the warning signs for someone thinking of suicide?
The San Francisco Suicide Prevention project has given these helpful warning signs of suicide risk.
Recognize the Signs Of Possible Suicide Risk
While some people suicide without warning, here are some warning signs a person may be at risk of suicide.
- Talk about Killing Themselves:
This might seem obvious, but is often ignored. Some people that are considering suicide may talk about suicide or the methods they might use to kill themselves just before their attempt.
- Talking About Dying:
People who are suicidal often talk about death a lot. This could also come out in art, journaling or other ways of expression.
- Saying Goodbye:
People who are suicidal often say good-bye in strange ways. They might talk in terms of “not seeing me around anymore” or “no one would notice if I never came back”. They are hinting in the hopes that someone will stop them.
- Tying Up Loose Ends:
Suicidal people often give away personal possessions, make arrangements for the care of children or pets, make wills, or other acts as if they are preparing to end their life.
- Become Violent:
Some people become very violent or aggressive when they are suicidal. Watch for a sudden change in aggression.
- Sudden Isolation:
People who are considering suicide may suddenly isolate themselves from friends and family. When no one investigates, it can reinforce the idea that no one cares.
- Sudden Changes in Behavior:
When people are suicidal they may have sudden behavior changes in eating, sleeping, or activities previously enjoyed.
- Lack of Sleep:
Your brain needs sleep to function properly. People feeling depressed or in crisis, who are also not sleeping, are at increased risk.
- Drug and Alcohol Use:
Substance use and depression are a nasty combination. Many substances like alcohol are depressants and will make a person feel much worse. Sometimes people try to self-medicate their depression away through substance use, but that won’t work. Also drugs and alcohol can lower inhibitions, increasing the risk of sudden violence.
- Fear of Losing Control:
People who are suicidal can talk about their fears of losing control of their bodies or emotions.
- Very Low Self Esteem:
People feeling suicidal express being a burden, feeling worthless, having shame, overwhelming guilt, self-hatred, “everyone would be better off without me”.
- No Hope for the Future:
People feeling suicidal often say that things will never get better and that nothing will ever change.
AND FINALLY REMEMBER:
The risk of suicide may sometimes be higher for a very depressed person once the depression lifts because the person may have more energy to carry out their planned act.
These are the warning signs provided by this organisation:
The vast majority of people who commit suicide have indeed talked to somebody about it beforehand. Also, it is generally agreed that being forced to promise you will not tell other people what you have been told in confidence does not apply when somebody’s life is in danger, so do talk to a professional if you are in this dilemma about a friend.
Also, the statement made by some people that those who talk about suicide would never do it is totally wrong!
Here are some warning signs:
Talking, writing or joking about death:
This usually indicates hopelessness and perhaps significant depression, both of which are important warning signs. Similarly, even if not talking about death, people who talk about life being pointless and having no meaning are also at risk.
Talking about people who have died from suicide:
Every suicide brings with it the risk of “copycat suicide” by those close to the person who died, especially other family members (please keep this in mind if you are thinking of suicide!). Copycat suicide is particularly a risk when a famous person dies from suicide, especially if media reports describe how the suicide was carried out, or make the action seem justified or glamorous. Unfortunately, every suicide really means the illness won again.
Withdrawing or avoiding contact with other people:
It is not normal for someone who was usually friendly to avoid contact with family and/or friends. Not making or responding to telephone calls or SMS messages indicate something is wrong. This is usually a significant sign of depression
Giving away personal possessions:
Why would anyone, especially a person still leading an active life, suddenly give away possessions they used and enjoyed? This is considered a particularly significant warning sign in young people.
Saying goodbye in a meaningful way:
This may be significant, especially if the person’s behavior has changed in other ways.
Making arrangements for after their death:
Pointing out where important papers or belongings are kept, or suddenly making a Will with unusual haste may be significant.
Unusual behaviour for the person, such as driving dangerously, or generally behaving recklessly, may be significant.
Deliberate self-harm or a suicide attempt:
These events indicate great distress and suffering, and there is very risk the person will repeat the situation (perhaps with a more drastic outcome), if the stresses affecting them have not changed or if the illness affecting them has not been treated. Statistically, suicide risk is highest in those who have already attempted suicide.
Discharge from a psychiatric unit:
The early days and weeks following discharge from a hospital for treatment of a psychiatric problem, are known to be one of the highest risk periods for suicide.
Evidence of depression:
Feeling hopeless about the future and having trouble sleeping, are considered the most serious indicators of suicide risk in someone who has depression. For more information on depression, go to www.depression.ie at the bottom of the Home Page of this site.
A person who has been very distressed, especially if they have had thoughts of suicide, may suddenly become calm and appear resigned to accepting whatever is happening. This may mean the person involved has decided to stop resisting the urge to suicide, and is calmly accepting that suicide is inevitable, and no longer able to be resisted.
“Terminal malignant alienation”:
This jargon phrase refers to a distressed person alienating all of those around them, often appearing extremely angry and grossly unappreciative of the help they are getting. While the normal human temptation in response to such behaviour is to lash out verbally in return, this may be the last ling the distressed person has with support. Instead, try to see their unreasonable behaviour and unreasonable irritability as symptoms of what they are suffering, not as the personality of the person involved. Be patient, and the normal person will eventually return, feel bad about the irritability and actually be very appreciative of what you have done!
Life is precious. I urge you to do all you can to take action to prevent suicide.
For crisis telephone support, phone Lifeline’s 24-hour-a-day crisis number: 13 11 14.
Copyright (c) 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.