A Psychologist On Suicide And The Warning Signs You Need To Look For
Suicide is a devastating outcome of mental illness, something that has far reaching effects on those close to the person and the community as a whole. Our most recent statistics show that in 2016, 2,866 Australians took their own life. That is almost 3,000 preventable deaths. Unfortunately, when someone dies from suicide it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. People close to the person question whether they could have done more to help, whether they should have reached out and just exactly why that person felt the need to take their own life.
As each circumstance is different, it’s hard to really determine what goes on in the mind of someone preparing to suicide. People contemplating suicide often report feeling trapped and seem to genuinely believe suicide is the only answer to their problems. Despite what some may think, suicide is not an act of selfishness. People who contemplate suicide often feel as though the world would be better off without them. They are usually so caught up in their own troubles that they genuinely believe that the world would be a better place if they’re gone and that their death will ease any pain. What is clear is that while in such an unhealthy headspace their minds are unable to think rationally and challenge these unhelpful thoughts that if in a better state of mind they could recognise as false.
If you are worried about someone you care about, there are signs you can look out for that may indicate someone you love is struggling or is thinking about ending their own life. These could include:
Talking about feelings of hopelessness
Someone who is vulnerable to acting on suicidal thoughts may express a loss of hope for the future and that the struggles they are going through seem never ending or impossible to overcome. As an outsider looking in you may be able to see hope but an individual who has lost all optimism and may be displaying other warning signs in conjunction with this could be a risk to themselves.
Talking about suicide and death
This can range from strange, off-handed comments to a seemingly full blown fascination with the topic. Someone preparing for suicide could be curious as to how to do it, or questioning what the ramifications would be. It is important to never ignore such topics and statements and encourage that person to have a mental health assessment by a professional.
Interruptions to ‘normal’ eating or sleeping patterns
Having trouble eating or sleeping or doing too much of it can certainly point to other issues, however it can be a warning sign that someone’s mental health is not good. Having trouble sleeping could mean that their mind is in overdrive or they are feeling the pressure of whatever they’re stressed and concerned about. A loss of appetite can point to various mental health problems, and it is something that should be explored further.
Withdrawing from friendship groups
When someone is contemplating suicide, they can withdraw from their social circles. They might spend less time with their family and loved ones, and resort to spending more time alone.
Loss of interest in hobbies or things they normally enjoy
Sudden or gradual loss of interest in the things a person normally enjoys doing can be considered a warning sign. This may mean they’ve lost the ability to feel joy that they used to be able to find and their lust for life has diminished.
Making preparations for death
If you notice someone seemingly starting to make preparations for death, this could be a warning sign. Things like writing a will or finalising things like debt or giving away objects, can point to the provisions they might be making.
An increase in self destructive behaviours such as using drugs or drinking alcohol in someone that is suicidal can show that a person no longer feels like they need to care about their own wellbeing. Being under the influence of a substance also increases the likelihood that a person will act on suicidal thoughts. A ‘no fear’ type of attitude should also arouse the same level of concern.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
The topic of suicide is a sensitive subject and it is important to treat it is such. If you are worried about someone, it is better to act immediately and be safe than it is to be sorry if you don’t do anything. Never, ever ignore suicide threats and take every conversation seriously. It is okay to ask the person you are concerned about directly if they are having thoughts of suicide. Though this may be difficult to ask it might be the most important question you ever ask. If you are finding it hard to bring up the topic of suicide, look to websites like Conversations Matter, which is a resource for discussing suicide. With the aim of encouraging that person to seek professional mental health support. If the matter is urgent please call 000 or for less urgent cases where a person needs to talk, contact Lifeline or Lysn.