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The common link among people who consider killing themselves is the belief that suicide is the only solution to a set of overwhelming feelings. The intent of suicide is to finally end the unbearable feelings. The tragedy of suicide is that intense emotional distress often blinds people to alternative solutions.Everyone experiences feelings of loneliness, depression, helplessness, and hopelessness, from time to time. The death of a family member, the breakup of a relationship, blows to our self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, and/or major financial setbacks are serious problems that all of us may have to face at some point in our lives. Because each person’s emotional and biological makeup is unique, each of us responds to situations differently. In considering whether a person may be suicidal, it is imperative that the crisis be evaluated from that person’s perspective. What may seem minorly important to someone else may be extremely significant to another. Regardless of the nature of the crisis, if a person feels overwhelmed, there is danger that suicide may seem an attractive solution.
At least 70 percent of all people who die by suicide give some clue as to their intentions before they make an attempt. Becoming aware of these clues and the severity of the person’s problems can help prevent such a tragedy. If a person you know is going through a particularly stressful situation-perhaps having difficulty maintaining a meaningful relationship, having consistent failure in meeting preset goals, or even experiencing stress at having failed an important test–watch for other signs of crisis.
Many people convey their intentions directly with statements such as:
- “I feel like killing myself.”
- “I don’t know how much longer I can take this.”
Others in crisis may hint at a detailed suicide plan with statements such as:
- “I’ve been saving up my pills in case things get really bad.”
- “Lately I’ve been driving my car like I really don’t care what happens.”
In general, statements describing feelings of depression, helplessness, extreme loneliness, and/or hopelessness may suggest suicidal thoughts. It is important to listen to these “cries for help” because they are usually desperate attempts to communicate to others the need to be understood and helped.
Often people thinking about suicide show outward changes in their behavior. They may prepare for death by giving away prized possessions, making a will, or putting other affairs in order. They may withdraw from those around them, change eating or sleeping patterns, or lose interest in favorite activities or relationships. A sudden, intense lift in spirits may also be a warning signal, as it may indicate the person already feels a sense of relief knowing their problems will “soon be ended.”
Myths about Suicide
Myth: “You have to be crazy even to think about suicide.”
Fact: Most people have thought of suicide form time to time. Most suicides and suicide attempts are made by intelligent, temporarily confused individuals who are expecting too much of themselves, especially in the midst of a crisis.
Myth: “Once a person has made a serious suicide attempt, that person is unlikely to make another.”
Fact: The opposite is often true. Persons who have made prior suicide attempts may be at greater risk of actually dying by suicide. For some, suicide attempts may seem easier a second or third time.
Myth: “If a person is seriously considering suicide, there is nothing you can do.”
Fact: Most suicide crises are time-limited and based on unclear thinking. People attempting suicide want to escape from their problems. Instead, they need to confront their problems directly to find other solutions–solutions that can be found with the help of concerned individuals who support them through the crisis period, until they are able to think more clearly.
Myth: “Talking about suicide may give a person the idea.”
Fact: The crisis and resulting emotional distress will already have triggered the thought in a vulnerable person. Your openness and concern in asking about suicide will allow the person experiencing pain to talk about the problem which may help reduce his or her anxiety. This may also allow the person with suicidal thoughts to feel less lonely or isolated, and perhaps a bit relieved.
How You Can Help
Most suicides can be prevented by sensitive responses to the person in crisis. If you think someone you know may be suicidal, you should:
Remain calm. The fact that the person is openly talking with you about their thoughts and feelings is a positive sign they want help.
Deal directly with the topic of suicide. Don’t be afraid to ask or talk directly about suicide. There is a difference between self-injury and suicidal thoughts. If the person says they want to hurt themselves, clarify if they mean they want to end their life. When people are considering suicide, thoughts can fall on a continuum of severity. Saying “I wish I could disappear or die.” is different than “I want to kill myself.” Being clear on what the person’s intentions are can help you know how to respond.
Encourage problem solving and positive actions. Remember that the person involved in emotional crisis is not thinking clearly; encourage him or her to refrain from making any serious, irreversible decisions while in a crisis. Talk about the positive alternatives which may establish hope for the future.
Get assistance. Although you want to help, do not take full responsibility by trying to be the sole counsel. Seek out resources which can lend qualified help, even if it means breaking a confidence. Let the troubled person know you are concerned–so concerned that you are willing to arrange help beyond that which you can offer.
UCLA suicide prevention experts have summarized the information to be conveyed to a person in crisis as follows: “The suicidal crisis is temporary. Unbearable pain can be survived. Help is available. You are not alone.”
Want to Know More?
Blauner, S.R. (2003). How I stayed alive when my brain was trying to kill me: One person’s guide to suicide prevention. Harper Collins.
Tworkowski, J. (2015). If you feel too much: Thoughts on things found and lost and hoped for. TarcherPeregree.
American Association for Suicidality suicideology.org
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention afsp.org
The Trevor Project (for LGBTQ individuals) thetrevorproject.org
Get help ASAP
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They also offer a chat option through their website, suicidepreventionhotline.org/chat/.