If you, like me, were a child in the ’70’s, catchphrases like ”na-nu, na-nu” and ‘‘shazbot!’‘ were a part of your vocabulary, and could be heard in playgrounds across the nation. These phrases came from what was to become compulsory viewing of the entertaining Mork & Mindy. This show captured my imagination and I wasn’t alone. One of my friends even named her new pet dog Mork, in honour of the quirky character, played by the talented and wonderful Robin Williams. He has since that time been an ongoing entertainment fixture in my life every decade since he burst onto Australian television screens. It seems very difficult to comprehend that he will no longer come up with new ways to entertain us with his wit, talent, insight and brilliance.
Like so many others, I was shocked to hear of Robin Williams’ death. I was deeply saddened to hear of how he died. I found it hard to accept that someone who had given millions of people so much joy, could die in such a brutal, agonising and lonely way. The mixture of emotions his family and friends are going through must be overwhelming. What disturbed me however, were some comments made by people about suicide itself. I put this down to their not being educated about the topic. So I want to spend some time going over what research says. My hope is that the more we know about suicide, the more equipped we are as a society to deal with it.
Profile of a person with suicidal thoughts or intention
Someone who is thinking about, and or is starting to make plans to complete suicide, believes that there is no other solution to their problems. They are usually experiencing excruciating and unbearable pain, fuelled by not having their emotional needs met. There are feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. People don’t want to end their lives, they want the pain to end. The thoughts experienced go back and forth between wanting to attempt suicide and wanting to be rescued. Historically, this person has used this type of thinking as a coping strategy when experiencing severe emotional pain.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, suicide is the most common cause of death for those between 15 – 44 years old. As of 2012, there were 2535 deaths completed by suicide. For every successful completion, it’s theorised there are 30 attempts a day. Three out of five deaths by suicide are completed by men.
Please note the language used here. Rather than “committed” suicide, within professional services we use the term “completion” of suicide. This is because suicide is not a crime. The term ”committed suicide” comes from a time when it was considered a criminal act.
Lifeline estimates that 250 people make a plan to attempt suicide each day. 1000 people think about suicide a day.
- Talking about suicide will make it happen: Talking about it in a non-judgmental, empathic way will help a person gain clarity about why they are thinking and feeling the way they are. This will lessen the likelihood of suicide occurring.
- People who threaten suicide don’t do it: The majority of people who talk about it do it. If someone discloses wanting to end their life, take it very, very seriously.
- Once suicidal, always suicidal: People can recover by learning what to do when they start to have suicidal thoughts, and how to deal with overwhelming emotions. This can be achieved through profession support, and with the help and understanding of friends and family.
- If an attempt is made and it’s not successful, the danger is over: The majority of suicides happen within 3 months of an unsuccessful attempt. Signs on a surface level may indicate that everything is fine however there needs to be caution. Often, people can experience a state of euphoria which is usually a sign that they have put their affairs in order, and made peace that they are going to die.
- Suicide is a painless way to die: Prior to a suicide attempt, there is the agonising emotional pain we have already spoken about. If the attempt is survived, the result can be physical disfigurement and chronic pain.
What to look out for
People may say:
- You’d be better off without me
- I’m better off dead
- You’ll be sorry when I’m gone
- Life’s too hard, I can’t deal with it
- Nobody understands me, nobody feels the way I do
- There is no way out
- I won’t burden you much longer
People may do:
- Start giving away prized possessions
- Change their will
- Buy the means to end their life such as tablets or a weapon
- Will draft notes to leave behind for loved ones
- Pay off debts
Depression and suicide
When someone is severely depressed, suicidal thoughts can often occur. Signs that someone is depressed include:
- Depressed mood and deep sadness.
- Sleeping patterns change. Either too much or too little.
- Change in weight and appetite.
- Speaking and/or moving extremely fast or extremely slow.
- Isolation from family and friends.
- Loss of energy.
- Inability to enjoy activities that are usually pleasurable.
- Feelings of worthlessness
What to do if someone you know is suicidal
You need to get as much information from the person as possible.
- Ask them directly ”are you thinking of suicide?” Use the word suicide directly, don’t say things like ”are you going to hurt yourself?” or ”you’re not going to do anything silly are you?” This will alienate the person and make them feel judged. Being direct opens the way for clear communication, allowing the person to be heard.
- Ask them if they have a plan. If they do, find out how and when they intend to do it.
- Ask if they have attempted suicide before? If they have, this increases the risk of them trying it again.
- Ask ”do you have a counsellor/social worker/psychologist who you are currently receiving treatment from?”
You need to stay with this person until you are able to link them to support services they have already told you of such as their counsellor or GP. Or, if the danger is immediate, you can call an ambulance, or you can take the person to the emergency department at your local hospital. You then can give the relevant support service all the information you have found out.
Many people think about getting First Aid Training, but don’t think about Suicide Prevention. I implore and encourage you to seriously consider one of the following courses.
Salvation Army – Suicide prevention QPR training program. A free online training program. QPR stands for ‘Question, Persuade and Refer’.
Lifeline – helpful tips and handouts to instruct you on what to do
LivingWorks Australia – formal training for all levels
A person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts is in excruciating pain and needs help, not judgment. If someone has just broken their arm, been shot, or is fighting a deadly illness, you would go into action to help – not to condemn. So please, help those who need it by educating yourself and those around you. It could save a life.
Photo credit: www.ktvu.com