Trigger warning: This article deals with issues surrounding suicide and suicide prevention which could trigger negative thoughts or memories for some readers. If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline (24hr hotline) 800-5588, 231-2824, 220-3636.
We like to think we know everything about the ones we love, but the truth is even those closest to us may be harbouring darkness, afraid or unable to verbalise their feelings. Our love for them can sometimes aid in detecting their darkness; others hide their pain well.
In September, mental health professionals recognise Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
While suicide is often the result of an untreated mental illness, this is not always the case. Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or socio-economic background.
Suicidal ideation (thinking about suicide or wanting to take your own life) may not always result in the act itself, but, regardless of the circumstances, it is a clear indication that intervention is needed.
“The most important thing you can do as a friend is to just be there,” said counselling psychologist Shaynelle George of A and S Counselling Solutions. “Be there in the capacity the person is allowing you.”
George said if someone suspects a loved one of being suicidal, then a little more effort is required, but just being in that person’s space can be helpful.
“Be there as best as you can, but also respect and understand that person’s boundaries. Sometimes when people are overwhelmed, the people in their space can make it worse," she said.
Dealing with life stressors
George said depression in adults can stem from many issues, but one of the biggest stressors, especially during the past two years of the global covid19 pandemic, is financial issues.
“A lot of people go into that depressive mode when the bills are piling up, especially when children are involved.”
She said the loss of a job and income can easily lead to depression.
Generally, outside of the pandemic, the inability to manage all of the things going on in one’s life can trigger depression and suicidal ideation.
“I have had clients who expressed suicidal thoughts because they are just not satisfied with where they are in life.
"Sometimes we put pressure on ourselves because we feel by a certain age we should have certain things. It can be frustrating for some people, especially people in their 20s and 30s. We were, unfortunately, sold a dream that when we became adults we would have it all together."
She said this is especially problematic for people who have degrees but are unable to find work and feel they are not where they are expected to be at this stage in their lives.
“Sometimes you don’t have the words to just say, ‘I am disappointed with where I am right now.’ People just express that with depressive modes (and) sometimes suicide is the only thought that comes to their mind when dealing with hopelessness. They feel as though things would be better if they weren’t here.”
Knowing the signs
George said for many adults withdrawal can be an indicator that something is wrong.
“People who may have been active; even if they aren’t outgoing, they would still reach out to their friends. Some people who feel depressed go into isolation and withdraw from the people around them.”
She said when this happens, find ways to draw them out.
“When they isolate themselves they are more susceptible to negative thoughts. Take a walk to the corner and back. Just getting them out of the house can be beneficial as a friend.”
She said people tend to gravitate to negative coping mechanisms and there can sometimes be a correlation between people who are suicidal and these mechanisms.
“Overeating, drugs, and alcohol are all ways of coping with or trying to drown out the negative thoughts they are having. They find it is easier to cope with something else to focus on, even if it may be damaging to them, but at that point in time it’s a source of comfort.”
Show empathy, not sympathy
George advised people to try to show more empathy rather than sympathy.
“Sometimes people try to feel sorry for them rather than trying to put themselves in their shoes.”
She said it is important to understand where the person is coming from rather than be dismissive of their feelings.
“Try to say, ‘I hear you.’ The person may be feeling like they are not seen and heard. Validating what they are feeling can help. Ask, ‘What can I offer at this point in time? How can I help?’ It empowers them to actually tell you what they need.”
She said to be careful how you tell someone that everything is going to be OK.
“Don’t trivialise what someone is going through. Don’t ever say to someone expressing suicidal thoughts that what they are feeling is minor. Do not minimise their feelings. I know a lot of times we gravitate to saying everything is going to be OK, but sometimes that can do more harm than good.”
She said for those who are religious, asking them to “put it in the Lord’s hands” can also be misunderstood.
“I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but understand the context. Sometimes it is not appropriate in the moment.”
Most times, all they need is a listening ear.
“Sometimes we may think we are doing what is best for them at that point in time rather than giving them what they need. Let them tell you what they need.”
She advised those who may be contemplating suicide to choose the right person to confide in.
“For anyone who wants or feels compelled to commit suicide, the best approach is to put someone you trust to sit down somewhere you feel comfortable. Choose the person you divulge your secret to correctly.
"Choosing the wrong person can cause more harm than good and can be detrimental to your own mental health. Choose someone who, even if they cannot help you, can find someone to give you the intervention you need at that point in time.
A and S Counselling Solutions can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.