Suicide almost always comes as a shock. No matter how depressed the suicide victim appeared before his or her death, loved ones struggle to accept that he or she is really gone. Despite the shock that always follows it, suicide is stunningly common. This means loved ones should always take suicidal thoughts and actions seriously.
Suicide: Warning Signs, Why People Kill Themselves
What causes people to kill themselves? And how can you tell if someone you love is in danger of committing suicide? That requires careful, compassionate observation.
Why Do People Commit Suicide?
There’s no single cause that can explain every instance of suicide. Research shows that, for most suicide victims, it’s not a desire to die but a desire to no longer live. That might seem like a trivial distinction, but what it means is that suicide happens when its victims can no longer tolerate the circumstances of their lives. Some of the most common reasons people commit suicide include:
- Mental illness. As many as two-thirds of people who commit suicide had depression at the time of their death; mental illness is the single biggest predictor of suicide.
- Isolation and loneliness: People who feel unloved or who are isolated from family and friends are significantly more likely to commit suicide. This is why ignoring the pleas of a suicidal loved one or discounting his or her threats is so dangerous.
- The end of a relationship: Break-ups and divorces sometimes trigger depressive feelings that give rise to suicidal actions.
- Loss of a sense of identity: People who lose their jobs, a home, or something else from which they derived a sense of identity are at an increased risk of suicide.
- Physical health issues: Some people kill themselves because they do not want to be a burden to loved ones, or because their physical suffering feels too great to bear.
Suicide Warning Signs
People do not attempt or threaten suicide to manipulate loved ones, contrary to popular myth. You should take all suicidal actions and gestures seriously. Some common warning signs of suicide include:
- A history of depression or mental illness.
- Previous suicide attempts.
- Threatening suicide; the more frequent and specific the threats, the higher the risk.
- Creating a suicide plan or writing a suicide note.
- Giving away beloved possessions.
- Saying goodbye to loved ones.
- Transitioning from severely depressed and suicidal to calmer and happier. If nothing has changed and the person has not sought treatment, this could be because he or she has decided to commit suicide. Some people feel relief once they have established a suicide plan, contributing to an outward appearance of sound mental health.
How to Help a Suicidal Loved One
You cannot stop a loved one from killing himself or herself, even if you watch him or her 24 hours a day. This means you should never hold yourself responsible for another person’s suicide. Someone who is bound and determined to commit suicide will do if if he or she does not get help and has the opportunity. If, however, someone you love is suicidal, there are things you can do to help, including:
- If the person is a child, alert a caring adult. This is often a parent, but not always. If the child’s relationship with the parent is strained or the parent is abusive, it might be better to talk to a grandparent, teacher, aunt, or uncle.
- Spend time with your loved one, and offer to do something fun together to take his or her mind off of the suffering. This can remind your loved one that his or her life has value, and that a suicide would hurt the people your loved one cares about.
- Encourage your loved one to seek treatment. Therapy can and does help people cope with suicidal feelings, even when they face extremely painful life circumstances.
Contact emergency services if your loved one is in immediate danger.
- Ask your loved one to give you any weapons in the house until he or she feels better.
- Remind your loved one that things can get better. Offer to work with them on a plan to make life feel more bearable.
- Ask what you can do to help. Sometimes this is all it takes.
Three Seas regularly works with people who experience suicidal thoughts, so if you are struggling, please do not hesitate to contact us for help.