Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. Emotions that arise as a result of sexual abuse are normal reactions to traumatic events. Survivors may feel intense self-loathing, hopelessness and isolation. They may not see any other way to stop the pain, except through death. However, most people who attempt suicide don’t really want to die. They just want the pain to stop. With help, they can be supported to find solutions and to move beyond the pain, grief and anger.
Most people give warning signs that they are thinking of killing themselves. These are invitations for others to offer help. Even if someone seems to be very casual or joking when they say things like I don’t see any way out or No one will miss me, it’s important to take this seriously, and address their comments directly. Talking about suicide does not increase the possibility of it happening. Talking about it could stop it. These statements are a cry for help.
Warning Signs of Suicide
Major warning signs that a person may be considering suicide include:
- Feelings of hopelessness, and feeling like there’s no way out;
- Unbearable feelings that the person can’t manage;
- Loss of meaning in life or interest in the things they used to love to do;
- Getting their affairs in order including making a will, making arrangements for their kids, giving special possessions away or getting life insurance;
- Feelings of self-loathing, shame and worthlessness;
- Significant changes in sleep, eating patterns or personal care;
- Self-inflicted injuries;
- Saying goodbye to people;
- Increased substance abuse;
- Dramatic mood swings;
- Self-destructive behaviour like increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving, or unsafe sex;
- Talking about killing or harming themselves;
- Preoccupation with death and dying through writing or visiting similar websites;
- Seeking out things that could be used in the suicide attempt including guns, knives or drugs;
- A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed – this can mean that the person has made a decision to commit suicide.
These signs are even more concerning if the person has a mood disorder like depression or bi-polar disorder, has attempted suicide before, has a family history of suicide, and/or has a drug or alcohol addiction.
A large number of people who have attempted suicide before will try it again. Those who have previously tried it are 40 times more likely than the general population to attempt it again.
Suicide can be understood along a continuum from passive to active, including:
- Thinking about committing suicide (ideation);
- Making comments about suicide (threats or attempts);
- Having a specific plan and the means to kill yourself (contract).
Helping people understand their coping skills, strengths, and supports, to get through the moment can help the person gain safety.
What You Can Do
It can be frightening if someone you’re talking to, or working with, shows warning signs of wanting to commit suicide. Some key things that you can do include:
- Speak up if you’re worried. You might feel uncomfortable or afraid, but if the person talks about suicide or shows other warning signs they need immediate help;
- Talk to the person about what they’re feeling, and listen carefully. Sometimes just sharing their grief, anger, or feelings of shame and worthlessness can get the person through the moment and prevent a suicide attempt. Starting the conversation can be as simple as: I’ve been really concerned about you lately; or, I’ve noticed some things about you that make me worried – how can I help you?;
- Listen, and let the person honestly express their feelings;
- Let them know that they’re not alone, that you are there for them, and that they are important to you;
- Be empathetic, non-judgmental, patient and calm.;
- Offer hope. Help them understand that – despite how they feel in the moment - they won’t always feel this way;
- Be yourself. Don’t worry about needing to say exactly the right thing. Just expressing care and concern goes a long way;
- Help them explore their options and alternatives, including professional help if needed;
- Encourage healthy lifestyle changes that can strengthen the person, and help them manage their feelings, by getting enough sleep, eating right, getting exercise, and some fresh air every day;
- Remove any potentially lethal items like guns, knives, drugs, razor blades;
- Help the person make a safety plan including steps that they can follow during a suicidal crisis. This can include identifying triggers, supports, and strategies, and making a list of emergency contact numbers.
What You Shouldn't Do
Thing you should avoid doing include:
- Don’t argue with or lecture the person, minimize their feelings or try to shame them;
- Don’t promise to keep things to yourself. You might need to talk to a mental health professional in order to keep the person safe;
- Don’t offer ways to fix their problems or give advice;
- Don’t make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal thoughts or feelings. The pain is real for them and they are hurting. Period;
- Don’t blame yourself. You can’t fix or save them. Their happiness is not your responsibility.
If the person has a specific suicide plan, the means to carry out the plan, and have a time set to do it, they need help immediately. If he or she is clearly going to attempt suicide in London you can call 911, the London Mobile Mental Health Response Team (519-433-2023, or 1-866-933-2023 in Middlesex County), or you can take them to the emergency department. Take away any guns, drugs, knives or other potentially lethal objects. Don’t leave the person alone.
You can also call a crisis line yourself if you need someone to help you figure out what to do in the moment. In London this is the London & District Distress Centre that operates a 24-7 helpline at 519-667-6711.
Following the Situation
- Be proactive about supporting the person and offering help and support. Don’t wait for them to call you. Drop by, call again, and invite the person out for a walk or a cup of coffee.
- Debrief with another peer supporter, as it is important not to sit by yourself with the experience.
- Practice good self-care. Supporting someone who is suicidal is challenging and can deplete you. Taking care of yourself, and giving yourself time to process what’s happened, is really important.