CHENNAI: It’s 2 am, your phone buzzes. You turn it on, ‘one new message’ reads the notification. You open it and a dreadful proclamation, ‘I want to kill myself’, from a close friend you love and don’t want to lose, sends a chill down your spine and leaves you shaking like a leaf blown by the wind.
You recoil at the thought and ask yourself, ‘how could they want to die?’, but counselors say that they have just dropped a hint by letting you in. It’s time for you to help. We talk to experts to find out how families and friends can look for signs, dos and don’ts, how must one talk to those who feel suicidal.
“People who have suicidal thoughts drop many hints. They start talking about death quite often. Sometimes we tend to overlook them,” says Mahima Poddar, a certified expressive art therapist.
There are three types of signs one can look for — verbal, behavioural and psychological. “If we look at behavioural signs, a person might generally behave withdrawn, they might cry a lot, be irritable and probably shout and yell unnecessarily. If they have something which they value a lot, they might give it away, visit people they haven’t visited. Their behaviour will be distinct from what they usually do,” says Lakshmi Vijayakumar, psychiatrist and founder, Sneha Suicide helpline.
Verbal signs include pronouncements like: ‘You may not see me next week’, ‘What’s the point in living’, ‘I am a burden to everyone’, ‘people are struggling because of me’, ‘nobody likes me’ and ‘I don’t think I am going to succeed in life’. “Sleep deprivation, being in a constant state of restlessness and agitation, not eating, indulging in binge drinking or drug abuse are some of the other signs,” she adds.
According to Lakshmi, about 70 per cent of people who committed suicide have told someone about their suicidal thoughts. So, suicide is not a surprise. “Most people don’t want to accept that a person is suicidal. But, when someone decides to step in, they may say words that don’t help, but further push the person into the rabbit hole,” she explains.
‘Suicide is cowardly’, ‘Be grateful for what you have’, ‘think of your family’, ‘things could be worse’, are a few responses that can discourage the person from telling you more. “Without examining them and negating what they say, hear them out. Talk to them about what you can do to help. What you say is like first aid. At that moment, the person would have already lost hope and all they would want is someone who would listen to them and understand them. Asking a person to think about their family, will make them miserable,” she shares.
Suicide is a serious and growing problem, says Latha Janaki, a psychologist. “Self-esteem issues, self-doubt, and feeling of alienation are some reasons that lead to suicide. Depression is also a major risk factor,” she says.
The best way to find out if someone is suicidal is to ask, ‘When did you begin feeling like this’, ‘How can I support you right now’, ‘You are not alone in this. I am here for you’, ‘Have you thought about getting help’, ‘I have been feeling concerned about you lately’ are some questions you can ask a person with such thoughts.
But, be yourself and let the person know that they are not alone. “They are very observant and will read the manner in which you talk to them. Allow the suicidal person to unload their anger or any feelings that they might have. You have to be patient and accepting; reassure them that their feelings are temporary,” she says.
If you are trying to fix their problem,Don’t act shocked or lecture on the value of life. “Their life is at stake...so, don’t make them feel they have to justify their feelings. Offer them help and get support from a mental health professional,” she explains. Though seeing them hurt might take a toll on you, don’t blame yourself. “Most time caretakers, close friends or family member take it on themselves to ‘fix’ someone’s depression. Please remember, it is not your fault,” she adds.
‘Nobody is born with suicidal intent’
Suicidal tendencies can be due to biological and psychological factors. Among biological aspects, one of the major reasons is the activities of neurotransmitters in the brain. One is dopamine and the other is serotonin.
Drop in serotonin leads to depression. Untreated depression over a period of time drives a person to commit suicide. The second aspect, recently found, is the role of genetics. Certain members are predisposed to suicide if their family members have done it in the past. Genetically, if the mother or father has attempted or committed suicide then it is more likely for the child to do so. Whether the gene gets expressed or not is determined by their environment. If the environment is abusive then the chances are high. Meanwhile, if the parents are supportive and nurturing then the chances are less.
In addition to depression, anxiety and situations like sudden loss, long-term illness, failed marriage and feeling of worthlessness can also increase suicidal tendencies. In most cases, the primary goal is to escape from pain. Suicide can only be measured on the grade of severity. While some people leave no signs of suicidal tendencies, some constantly speak about it, yet do not muster courage to commit. Nobody is born with suicidal intentions.
Kids learn it from the Internet, movies, and people around them.
There is something called ‘Para suicide’. According to MedicineNet, ‘It is an apparent attempt at suicide, commonly called a suicidal gesture, in which the aim is not death. For example, a sublethal drug overdose or wrist slash. Previous attempts of para suicide is a predictor of suicide. The increased risk of subsequent suicide persists without decline for at least two decades. Dr Kannan Gireesh is a psychiatrist and founder of Live Life Foundation
Ability to cope
Coping mechanism is the ability to deal with problems. It differs across individuals based on their upbringing. Better the coping level, lesser the suicidal tendencies.