Tragedy under the sun
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or behaviours, please seek help immediately from an appropriate professional, such as a general practitioner or, in cases of life-threatening emergencies, call 999 or visit A&E.
It is a time of year that we start to think about holidays, sunshine, and enjoyment. However, one of the things that might not be on everybody’s radar at this particular time of year is the high suicide rate that encompasses our population each year.
In the UK in 2017, 10.1% of deaths per hundred thousand people were attributed to suicide. That means that, in this year, 6,670 people died because of suicide. In the UK, if you are under the age of 16 and an individual of this year group completes suicide, it is recorded as death by misadventure - as in the eyes of the law a person under the age of 16 is not legally competent; therefore, teen suicides are recorded as such. In the same year (2017), the coroner’s office recorded that 22% of cases referred to the coroner died in this way. 229,700 deaths were reported to the coroner that year, meaning that 50,534 people died due to misadventure. That means, potentially, in the year 2017, that 57,304 people lost their lives to suicide.
One of the most re-occurring factors that I see when I work with people with anxiety and depression is the progression of their low mood upon entry into therapy and their engagement with suicidal ideation. This is not necessarily a person who wishes to take their own life, but is thinking about suicide usually after a person is exposed to very stressful or anxious conditions. Suicidal ideation comes into the mind because there is a mentality that the person cannot necessarily escape the tragedy of a certain situation, or it was too difficult for them to find an answer to, and they are drawn towards negative emotions. Sometimes these negative emotions become so overwhelming that individuals take their own lives.
The reasons for suicide
- negative human behaviour, such as bullying or discrimination
- toxic relationships and domestic abuse
- financial worries
- sexual / physical abuse
- bereavement (of a family member or significant other)
- isolation and loneliness
- addiction or substance abuse
- a huge change within the individual’s life, such as retirement or redundancy
- witnessing a suicide or being a survivor of a person who has taken their own life
- feelings of inadequacy or failure
- cultural pressures / uncertainty over gender or sexuality issues
- pregnancy, childbirth or post-natal depression
- intense negative feelings about the self, for example having a particular feature on the body you don’t like.
When individuals descend upon a course of action that will result in the ending of their own lives, there is a distinct set of patterns that become evident, including changes in our language and general behaviour. These can include:
- Talking about suicide.
- Finding a way to take their own life.
- Talking about hopelessness, a loss of purpose, of feeling trapped.
- Being in pain.
- A very strange sense of calm.
- Being a burden to others.
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
- Acting as if they are agitated, anxious, or engaging in reckless behaviour.
- Withdrawing from usual social activities, friendship groups, and activities that they would otherwise enjoy.
- Mood swings.
There is nothing more terrifying that when you have to face an individual, possibly one that you love very deeply, who is considering ending their own life. Therefore, it is important that if you suspect someone in your life that is at risk, that you engage with them and find them appropriate support. If there is an immediate risk to life, then secure an ambulance via the emergency services, however, in less serious cases, you could book a general practitioner appointment where they will be able to access appropriate psychological services and also prescribed medication that may assist in the alleviation of mood.
The most important thing that you can do as a friend is to listen and offer to help where you can. Most suicides are prevented by the simple asking of a question such as “are you feeling ok?”; this simple human interaction can be the difference between life and death.
Questions you can ask and things that you can say to help someone in distress:
- “I have been worried about you lately...”
- “I wondered how you are doing…”
- “Are you ok? You haven’t seemed yourself lately”
- “When did you start to feel like this?”
- “Has something happened to make you start feeling like this?”
- “How can I help you now?”
- “Have you thought about getting help?”
- “You are not alone. I’m here for you”
- “Do you plan to end your life?” (if the answer is yes, get help straight away)
- “Do you have anything that could help you end your life?” (if the answer is yes, get help straight away)
- “Do you know when you think might end your life?” (if the answer is they do know, get help straight away)
- “Do you feel as if you could take your own life?” (if the answer is yes, get help straight away)
- “In time your feelings will change”
- “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help”.
Do’s and Dont’s
Everyone worries about getting things right and wrong, so here are some tips to avoid pitfalls:
- Offer encouragement and positivity – people in this condition will be struggling to find the positive and offering encouragement gently could be very helpful in stabilising their mood.
- Listen – often people who are alone or suicidal have not been listened to, and this is an opportunity to show that someone cares.
- Be patient and calm – the calmer you are, the more positive vibes you can send out and the better the chance that you can stabilise the situation.
- Be honest and be yourself – this is crucial, as if you are not genuine, this could have an adverse effect by lowering the person's morality by thinking you are paying them lip service.
- Offer hope – most suicidal thoughts are temporary; let the person know they matter to you.
- Take the person seriously and don’t avoid the question – “I feel depressed, I could end it all” – a response could be: “what do you mean by that? Have you been having suicidal thoughts?”.
- Argue with a suicidal person – this will make matters worse and could escalate suicidal feelings or acts.
- Act in a melodramatic way i.e. acting shocked, or going off on a lecture about life and the wonders thereof; this is neither listening nor helpful, and will have the opposite effect.
- Promise confidentiality – if a person needs help, they need the support of their loved ones and professionals.
- Blame yourself. It is not your fault the way someone feels, and if they have chosen a way of thinking, you cannot be blamed for that as it is the double-edged sword of free will. Something which is essential in all human beings is freedom, even if it is the choice to take such a course of action.
Where to get help:
- Don’t leave the person on their own, and call 999 or go to A&E.
- Refer to general practitioner, counsellor, or other medical professional
- Samaritans - Phone 116 123
- Mind - MindInfoline: 0300 123 3393
- Stamp Out Suicide: 07766 808 222
- Papyrus (Preventation of Young Suicide): 0800 068 4141
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