Writer’s note: Hey, Psych2Goers! This article isn’t meant for diagnosis or treatment. It is meant to create awareness among the general public, so if you or someone you know may be struggling, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from Psychiatrists or other trusted professionals.
Trigger warning: Information presented in this article discusses on suicide which may be triggering to some people. If you notice you or your loved ones exhibit such behaviour, please know there are helpful resources to support you.
There is step by step progression before a person committed suicide. A person might be feeling depressed, leading to suicidal thought and this will then be portrayed in their behaviour, and eventually they will attempt to commit suicide. Unfortunately, if their attempt is successful without any intervention, another precious life has gone from this beautiful world.
Now, imagine this, that someone you know is depressed and becoming more suicidal, and you have a hunch that their depression is getting worse, and you can’t help but notice that they are doing things to themselves that are making their suicidal ideation worse.
According to Kahn & Legg (2019), suicidal behaviour is defined as talking about or taking actions related to ending one’s own life. There are two different types of suicidal ideation: passive or active. Passive suicidal ideation refers to the thoughts that one want to be dead, but one doesn’t actually make any plans to commit suicide yet. On the other hand, active suicidal ideation is not only wishing to be dead, but one may have the intent and has planned how to commit suicide.
Suicidal thought and behaviour are considered a psychiatric emergency.
Could we actually step in time to stop them?
What a person is feeling on the inside isn’t so obvious, thus, it will be really difficult to recognize when a person is having suicidal thought. However, there are some warning signs that can be manifested in their behaviour that you can watch out for, in order to intervene before it’s too late:
- Talks about feeling hopeless, worthless, “trapped,” or like one has no reason to keep living
That warm summer day, you go out for a picnic with your best friend from your hometown, who has lost her mother a few weeks ago. You want to spend time with her, to make her happy. While you are munching on the tuna sandwich, she passes a casual but gruesome remark, “I feel I am hopeless and worthless. I feel trapped. There is no reason for me to keep living.”
When a person is having a dark thought of wanting to end their life, they will be expressing the feeling of hopelessness and worthlessness. The person will also feel as if they are trapped and like there is no reason for them to keep living.
2. Makes a will, gives away personal possessions, or tries to “get one’s affairs in order”
You feel that your older brother has been behaving weird recently. He is giving you his favourite baseball cap autographed by his favourite player, while saying, “Take good care of our mother, okay?” Before this, you have asked him repeatedly for the cap, but he refused to give it to you.
When a person is contemplating suicide, they will write a will or give away their own personal belongings, as an act that they want thing to be “in order” before taking their own life. They will make sure that everything is being taken care of, so that they can reduce the burden on their family after they are gone.
3. Searches for means to harm oneself
You enter your son’s room one day, to use his computer to print an important document, since your laptop is not working. Earlier, he said to you he is going out to his friend’s house. Your eyes are widened in shock as you see what is on the computer screen. It displays multiple internet tabs, with articles on “how and where to buy guns”.
A person who is thinking of committing the “deed” will be actively seeking out ways to harm themselves, for example, one will be searching the internet on how to do it. If one plans to shoot oneself, one will find out ways to obtain the gun.
4. Avoids other people, including loved ones
One weekend, you tried to video call your son who was studying overseas. This was the usual time that you and your son would interact with each other. However, he did not answer your call. You did not think much about it, so you assume he might be doing something else, and he would probably call you later, like he always did. But, he did not call you back. So, you decided to try again the next day. Still no answer.
A person with suicidal tendencies may spend more time than usual alone and isolate themselves. However, bear in mind, we should also consider the person’s personality. Do they like to take their time-out occasionally? Do they like to spend time in solitude and recharge after a social gathering or activity? The key point here is: a drastic change in behaviour. Like in the above case, if you know the usual behaviour of your son is to call you back despite how busy he is, then this is something that should not be dismissed.
5. Acts agitated, anxious, or aggressive
You notice your partner has turned aggressive lately. This happens after he has lost his job, and you notice it is a complete change in his previous behaviour, who has always been loving towards you.
A person who is thinking of ending his own life may be experiencing agitation or heightened state of anxiety. There can also be changes in personality and one may behave aggressively.
6. Drinks alcohol or uses drugs excessively
Your roommate arrived at the rental house, completely drunk. He repeated this behaviour almost everyday, since he had broken up with his significant other, just a fortnight ago. You also suspected that he had taken drugs to ease his sorrow and forget about his pain.
One of the outward signs manifested by a person who is contemplating to end one’s own life is they will engage in reckless behaviours, such as excessive alcohol or drug consumption. They want to “forget” their sorrow away by being excessively drunk or stoned.
7. Has experienced a severe life stressor recently
Your mother passed away one week ago due to cancer. You notice your father becomes more withdrawn and silent at home. Both your father and your mother always have a sweet loving relationship.
It is a myth that only people who have been diagnosed with mental illness can experience suicidal ideation. The truth is, suicidal ideation can be preceded by any severe life stressors such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, relationship problems, sexual abuse, severe illness or a traumatic event recently.
8. Has attempted suicide or demonstrated suicidal behaviour in the past
It was very late at night when you were walking around the well-lit park on your university grounds towards your hostel. Then, a few walks away, you saw your friend, Bethany (not her real name) , was sitting on the edge of the pond, looking very distraught. You know her family had financial problems and she had demonstrated suicidal attempt just a few weeks ago.
You need to channel your Sherlock Holmes energy when you saw the above suspicious behaviour portrayed by any person whom you know has attempted suicide in the past. According to a study, about 30 percent who has attempted suicide will repeat the attempt again. However, if they do make a second attempt, most will survive. But this does not mean that a suicide survivor can magically solve the issue that first urged him or her to make that attempt to end their life. Knowing the possible emotional aftermath of an attempt—and being mindful that previous suicide attempt is a risk factor for a second attempt—is fundamental for helping survivors get mentally well and safeguard them from future harm.
When a person is in the middle of a crisis, one may have tunnel vision – the tendency to only view one possible outcome in a given situation. One might think that their future is pretty bleak. Thus, here, it is tremendously important to have an outside perspective – the person around them to make them see the light at the end of the tunnel and to intervene before it’s too late.
Therefore, if you suspect that a friend or someone you care about may be becoming more suicidal, don’t handle it alone, instead please reach out to local help. Find someone who has dealt with this situation and get them to intervene where possible. Also, please know that there are helpful resources that you can contact for immediate help:
America: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Australia: 13 11 14
United Kingdom: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90
Hong Kong: +852 28 960 000
Japan/Tokyo: 81 (0) 3 5286 9090
Brazil: 55 11 31514109 or (91) 3223-0074
Germany: 0800 111 0 111
Russia: (495) 625 3101
South Africa: 0800 12 13 14
Kahn, A., & Legg, T. J. (2019, December 21). What You Should Know About Suicide. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/suicide-and-suicidal-behavior#suicidal-signs.
Miller, L. B. (2020, September 9). The Myths and Warning Signs of Suicide. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mind-body-connection/202009/the-myths-and-warning-signs-suicide.
Psychology Today. (n.d.). Seeking Help for Suicidal Thoughts. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/seeking-help-suicidal-thoughts.