In school, during college days, a girl I related with closely had been complaining about an alcoholic father who was hardly home. She constantly told stories of how the father would come home once a week on the day of choice and when he did, she and her siblings ran into their bedrooms to escape Daddy’s wrath.
They would get to bed and cover themselves but still listen carefully to the noise that came from their parent’s quarrels. This repeated itself so much until it became a lifestyle. Most of those days when the father came home, she never got to sleep and so she would come to class very tired. Most of the classmates she would talk to seemed understanding and supportive.
After dealing with so many issues such as their family issues, academic demands, challenges of being a young adult and the accumulated fears that their father may kill their mother someday, she got very sick and was admitted in hospital where she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
Soon after treatment and discharge, she kept saying that she was better dead, that she did not understand what she was on earth to do, that she preferred to be dead other than live and suffer. One day she came to class carrying so many of the tablets and told us she wanted to take them after break so that she could die.
While I did not understand the causes of even how to help a person with the thought of suicide, I prayed for her and talked her into not taking away her life. I embraced her and shared that we would miss her badly if she died by suicide. My other friends supported me but one particular one asked her to grow up and stop seeking attention (he categorically called it tough love).
All of us were trying to help in ways that we knew how. I remember some telling her that a problem shared is halfway solved and therefore they encouraged more talk, they even suggested that we allocate more time so that she could talk out more of what was causing her pain. Most of these suggestions were done in good faith.
The question to ask is, were these methods helpful? I will say yes they were helpful to a level but not fully. Research shows that at the time someone is having thoughts of suicide, S/he may be dealing with a mental illness and with high possibility of having suffered childhood trauma. Other causes of suicide may or can be caused by grief, induced by drug abuse or mental illnesses.
This means that apart from the spiritual support (prayers and any other form of spiritual nourishment), social and family support (allowing others to share what they are going through, and not being judgmental), one needs professional treatment where proper assessment can be done and the right treatment offered.
Myths about suicide
Suicide is a choice and that a person can chose differently – this is not true because at the time one is thinking of suicide, they may be suffering from one or more mental illnesses and these affect the brain functions.
A person thinking of suicide is Selfish. This is not true and it makes it harder for people with thoughts of suicide to seek help if they think they’ll be called selfish.
When some tells a person with thoughts of suicide that they are taking a permanent solution to a temporary problem. This means the person telling is completely insensitive to what the person with thoughts of suicide is experiencing at that moment.
Those with thoughts of suicide are unreasonable and are out to punish their family – Most people who die by suicide or attempt suicide do so because they feel that they do not belong and that they are a burden to others. They believe that death will free their loved ones from the unnecessary burden.
Only certain people die by suicide – there is no way to tell a person who can attempt suicide from those who cannot because just like other illnesses do not discriminate, suicidal thoughts does not. When dealing with people, pay attention to what they are saying and the behavior as opposed to who they are, or their social economic class.
Talking about suicide will make people think about dying by suicide – this is not true. In fact, talking about suicide is likely to open up a discussion for those who feel that suicide is a topic that cannot be discussed.
People who talk about suicide want to die – the truth is people who talk about suicide want to end their pain. They have mixed feelings about death, they want to live then again want to die. If help is availed, they can clarify their thoughts.
Warning signs of suicide.
- Speaking suicide which may include someone saying they have no reason to live, someone feeling they would be better dead than being alive, wanting to leave to unknown place and live there alone and never come back, saying goodbye to people, inviting people to attend their funeral.
- Isolation, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, feeling worthless.
- Extreme guilt and shame and feeling like you are a burden to others.
- Consistent search for suicide or ways one can die by suicide.
- Change in eating and sleeping patterns, irritability, lack of coordination and sadness.
- Spelling plans and exact ways they intend to die – in this case it’s okay to ask how they intend to die, the means and when the intend to implement the plan.
- Making preparations for their death and even giving valuable stuff that they clearly need.
- Self-harming behavior such as reckless driving, sometimes cutting self may be an attempt to bleed to death, excessive use of alcohol or drugs and risky sexual behavior.
- After long periods of sadness, a person suddenly becomes calm and suddenly seems to be excited about life. This is largely mistaken for healing but it needs keen observation because most people feel like they have suddenly found a solution which is death. Their excitement is not about life but the new found solution-death.
How to help a person with thoughts of suicide?
I have heard people diagnosing depression with loved ones because the loved ones have thoughts of suicide or they have attempted suicide. Depression is not the only cause of suicide, one needs proper assessment and treatment that may involve a psychiatrist, psychologist, good social support and spiritual interventions.
Assessment helps in discovering what the real cause of suicidal thoughts because unless the cause is known, proper treatment may not be administered. Once assessment is professionally done, the family is helped on how to support their loved one and together get involved towards the journey of healing.
By Joan Kirera – Family Therapist. For more visit www.joankirera.com: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera