Whether you have been personally affected by suicide or not, I think we can all agree on how utterly tragic it is. Whenever I hear a story that results in suicide, my heart aches. Mental illness is a current epidemic, in 2020 it was reported that one in five U.S adults live with a mental illness. Approximately 800,000 people die from suicide every year, that is one person every 40 seconds, as estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Burden of Disease study. In this blog, I will look at why people commit suicide, spot the signs, prevent it, and better your mental health.
Many people do not understand suicide. There is a huge stigma in society around mental illness and suicide, many of the people who question it have never dealt with it first-hand. In certain countries suicide is illegal, frowned upon and labelled as a sin. To spot the signs and potentially help prevent suicide, you have to understand why people have suicidal thoughts, and sometimes eventually end their own lives.
There are often many factors that drive someone to commit suicide, sometimes there are no clear signs. This can be devastating for the people they leave behind, trying to figure out why they did it and how they could have helped. Many people who commit suicide do so shortly after having these thoughts, rather than planning it out. Many things can cause these thoughts, but the leading factor is depression. Severe depression can cause an individual to feel immense pain, taking away any hope and happiness they once had. When they feel like this, they do not see any way of the pain going away, other than ending their own life. Other mental illnesses which contribute to suicidal thoughts include bipolar disorder, border personality disorder (BPD), eating disorders and schizophrenia.
Another reason people take their own lives is trauma. This trauma can stem from their childhood, including sexual abuse, rape, physical abuse or verbal abuse which happened while they were young. This trauma can also occur while an adult, and also extends to PTSD, being diagnosed with this can lead to depression and other mental illnesses. If trauma is unresolved a person can have intense feelings of hopelessness and may feel as though they will never get over this.
Substance abuse can also trigger suicidal feelings. If a person is already having mental health issues, abusing substances can cause them to act more impulsively than they usually would when sober. Substance abuse can also lead to damage to relationships, financial loss, academic failure and the loss of jobs, which also contributes to suicide. The rates of substance abuse are higher among depressed/ mentally ill people, this dramatically raises the risk of suicide attempts.
Chronic pain and illness can lead to suicidal thoughts, causing people who are suffering physically to end their lives rather than feel the pain of their illness. They may also feel like a burden to others who are looking after them and want to take back that control. In some regions of the world assisted suicide is legal for this reason. According to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, brain injury and heart disease were associated with a higher risk of suicide.
Now that you know some of the reasons people take their lives, you should know the signs of suicide. Being able to spot these signs and act accordingly can save someone’s life.
• Speaking about hurting themselves or expressing their desire to hurt themselves or die.
• Talking about ways to die or having a suicide plan.
• Saying things such as ‘nothing will ever change’ or ‘I feel like a burden’.
• Saying they feel as though they have no purpose.
• Practicing self-harm or risk-taking behavior.
• Giving their items away or saying goodbye to people.
• Extreme emotions or dramatic mood swings.
• Changes in their sleep pattern, getting too much or too little sleep.
If you recognize one or more of these signs, act quickly before it’s too late. Pieta, a suicide prevention charity, sets three simple steps to approach someone you believe to be suicidal.
Ask: Ask them directly ‘are you thinking about suicide?’
Persuade: Calmly and gently attempt to persuade the person to seek help or allow you to assist them in finding help.
Refer: As quickly as you can, guide the person to a mental health service or hospital where they can be given the help they need.
The best thing you can do as a friend/ family member is to follow these steps. It is better to be wrong than to regret not stepping in. Listening carefully and reassuring them that help is available and that you will support them in their journey. Be non-judgmental and give them the space to speak freely and honestly with you. It can be difficult as a concerned loved one if the person does not want your help, remember that there is only so much you can do, be patient with them. Assure them you are there for them when they are ready to talk.
If you are looking to improve your mental health to avoid these thoughts ever occurring, there are a few simple steps you can make to better your mental health.
• Talk about your emotions.
• Ask for help.
• Take a break.
• Keep active.
• Connect with people you love.
• Get enough sleep.
• Develop new hobbies.
• Develop a routine.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please know you are not alone and there is help out there. Your life is worth so much to you and your loved ones. Please reach out to a mental health organization or medical professional who can provide you with the support you need to recover. Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems. Things will get better if you give yourself the chance. Every suicide is preventable when you know the signs and are quick to offer help and support.