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Forewarned Means Forearmed: the signs and prevention of suicide in loved ones


Author: Dariia Serdiuk

Today, many people are going through difficult times. Sudden changes, restructuring of values, constant uncertainty, separation or even loss of loved ones. The psyche is overloaded, possible nervous breakdowns, exacerbation of mental problems. Under such conditions, some people need special attention and help from others.

Today, we will talk about the difficult topic of the threat of suicide. We will debunk common myths, determine the signs of approaching disaster, and understand how to help a loved one not to make a fatal mistake.

Following WHO data one in 100 deaths is by suicide. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-19 year-olds in 2019. In its Fact Sheet 2021, WHO notes that refugees tend to be at elevated risk of suicide.

Common myths about suicide

  • MYTH 1: Suicide is always an impulsive act that cannot be anticipated. TRUTH: More often than not, a person thinks about such a decision and even seeks help.
  • MYTH 2: People who are suicidal really want to die. TRUTH: Most people who have committed suicide or attempted suicide have previously told at least one person about their intentions or have called a helpline or seen a doctor. This indicates the ambivalence of their desire.
  • MYTH 3: Suicide is hereditary. TRUTH: Suicide in the family is not a sentence for family members. However, such experiences do increase the risk of suicidal behavior in others. More often than not, it is associated with a tendency toward depression or other mental illnesses.
  • MYTH 4: Only people with mental illness are suicidal. TRUTH: Certainly, mental illness increases risk. However, there are cases where mental illness has not been detected in suicidal people.
  • MYTH 5: Talking about suicide encourages suicide. TRUTH: If a person doesn’t have suicidal thoughts, simply talking about it won’t trigger them. Conversely, well-constructed communication can help prevent tragedy.
  • MYTH 6: Children do not commit suicide. TRUTH: Very rarely, but even children can commit such acts. Suicide has no specific age, gender, or social status.
  • MYTH 7: People who talk about suicide never commit it, they just want attention. TRUTH: More often than not, just before a person commits suicide, she/he displays what is called terminal behavior. She/he speaks cautiously or even directly about her/his intentions, hoping to get help. It is possible to distinguish verbal and behavioral signs of preparation for suicide.

Verbal signs:

  • The person may speak of intentions directly: “I can’t go on living like this,” “I’d rather kill myself,” etc.
  • Indirect hints of plans: “I won’t bother anyone anymore”, “Soon all this will be over.
  • Lots of jokes about suicide and death.
  • Sudden unhealthy interest in the topic of death.

‌Behavioral signs:

  • “Tidying up” one’s life: the person may pay debts, give things away, resolve conflicts, and make peace with enemies.
  • Frequent abrasions, bruises, cuts. This can indicate unsuccessful previous suicide attempts or self-harming behavior.
  • Radical changes in behavior: overeating or lack of appetite, insomnia or increased hours of sleep, sloppiness, the person stops taking care of himself; withdrawal, loss of interest in things that gave pleasure or excessive activity; irritability, sudden mood swings from euphoria to despair, helplessness, hopelessness, despair, etc.
  • Sometimes a person may appear happy, sharply more cheerful, and open to communication after exhibiting the pre-described signs. Such a situation may occur after the final decision to commit suicide with certain deadlines and circumstances, which gives the person a long-awaited peace of mind.

All of these are often symptoms of depression. WHO warns – there is a higher prevalence of typical mental disorders such as depression, anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among refugees.

It should be noted: you should not be afraid of psychiatric diagnoses. Society often marginalizes or devalues the concept of depression, which can lead to tragic consequences. 

Depression and anxiety are serious illnesses that are becoming increasingly common, on a par with cardiovascular disease. Globally, it is estimated that 5% of adults suffer from depression (as of 2021). Therefore, we advise you to take these changes in the behavior of your loved ones seriously. Try not to judge them and offer help, if necessary, to consult a specialist.

‌What to do if you notice disturbing signs in the behavior and mood of a loved one?

  • Establish a caring relationship. Don’t judge, show interest, understanding and patience. For someone who is in such a fragile state, feeling unloved and useless, the care and participation of a responsible person is a powerful support.
  • Ask questions. Don’t be afraid of the direct question, “Are you thinking about suicide?” It won’t lead to thinking about it if the person hasn’t had one before. On the contrary, you will show concern, show the person that he or she is important, that he or she is being paid attention to, and remove the taboo of the topic.
  • Be a considerate listener. Refuse an authoritative or commanding tone. People in this condition need to discuss their pain, let them talk, cry, and listen carefully.
  • Don’t argue, don’t compare the person to others. “It’s not so bad for you yet,” “Somewhere children are starving” – immediately blocks further discussion and makes it worse.
  • Suggest constructive approaches to the situation. Try to find alternatives, find possible ways to resolve the situation.
  • Give hope. Analysis of suicide notes shows that loss of hope for the future is one of the main motives for suicide.
  • Make an anti-suicide contract. Ask for a promise to contact you before the person decides to commit suicide. Surprisingly, such an agreement can be very effective.
  • Don’t leave the person in a high suicide risk situation. Stay with him or her as long as possible, or ask someone to stay with him or her until the crisis is resolved or help arrives. You may have to call an emergency or see a specialist.
  • Get help from a specialist.

Take care of yourself and your family. Free psychological help for Ukrainians can be found here.