Suicide: Part 3- How to help someone; how to help yourself

By virtue of being a mental health professional, I have come in contact with lots of people who (for one reason or the other) wish they were dead.

It is clear that most of the time, there are subtle signs people around them tend to overlook which would have possibly given an opportunity to engage them and take a shot at helping to quell their death wish.

Exploring Intent

Clinically, we talk about “intent”. We try to determine how strong the motivation to succeed in the quest for dying is in the individual.

When you come across persons who express feelings of disconnect with the world, thoughts of sleeping and not waking up the next day, the desire to just disappear and not be found again or wanting their whole family or others around them to disappear; please try and probe further!

Asides these, if the individual starts asking questions about death and dying, begins to read about or listen to music or watch movies that involve lots of violence and death; or the individual develops a fascination or preoccupation with weapons (guns, knives, ropes etc) that can be used to kill; you need to get help as soon as possible.

When such thoughts and actions are now followed by an actual act of harming oneself or trying to actually kill himself/herself; immediate intervention is required to quell the death wish.

There are individuals whose acts of deliberately harming themselves or killing themselves were carried out impulsively. Such individuals are almost always suffering from a severe mental illness or might be under the influence of psychoactive substances (alcohol and others) or other drugs at the time when the act was carried out.

We try to delineate individuals whose acts are simply a deliberate attempt at harming themselves from those who actually intend to die. This would be determined by the nature of the act (how violent), the persons expressed motivation for the act and plans towards ensuring a success which includes concealment of the act.

Deliberate self-harm (which is common among emotionally challenged females) could mistakenly end up in suicide! That is why we should not take it lightly when we find anyone who engages in it.

In my own opinion, deliberate self-harm is as bad as suicide! Deliberately harming oneself is a major risk factor for suicide.

How can we help someone who has a death wish to stop that thought process?

Almost all cases of suicide would have started by the individual ruminating on dying. It isn’t all who think about suicide that is motivated enough to carry out the fatal act. Some schools of thought believe that suicide is an expression of murder turned inwards. This seems to suggest that the individual probably has an underlying anger issue which was wrongly expressed.

I must say that one size doesn’t fit all. Every individual must be evaluated and the approach towards helping him/her professionally determined.

The best thing is to attempt to stop suicide by intervening when it’s still at the stage of being a thought process. Since we aren’t all “mind readers”, how do we get to know that an individual is having suicidal thoughts? We simply “ASK”.

Do we go about asking everyone if they are thinking of killing themselves? No! We ask individuals who have any of the risks I discussed in Part 2 (previous article); how he/she feels about life, ask if he/she had been having thoughts of ending it all, disappearing, sleeping and not waking up etc.

We can also explore further by asking if the individual had thought of a particular method or have made specific plans or have kept a preferred weapon or even previously tried it out. Most people who end up committing suicide would have actually tried it out previously.

Speech is externalized thoughts. This makes it imperative to get the person to talk about it. It is wrong to think that talking about suicide will make the person successfully kill himself/herself. Talking about it opens up an avenue for intervening and getting the person to be reasonable towards exploring alternative options for the resolution of the circumstances that seem insurmountable to warrant thoughts of dying. Techniques of a motivational interview can be adapted to get the person to see why suicide will almost always complicate issues and result in much pain and trauma to loved ones and significant others without achieving its intended purpose. Let them realize that every death is a loss, to the individual, the family and the society at large!

If you come across anyone who is at risk of suicide or expressing thoughts of dying, killing someone, getting a weapon to kill someone or going around with a weapon to kill someone or anyone else then kill themselves to escape the law;  get them to see a mental health professional ASAP! Don’t assume that it is a joke or it is the situation of a spoilt brat, silly person or angry individual simply acting out. It’s better to be safer than sorry.

Asides mental health professionals, simply getting someone else who is matured and spiritually inclined to interact with them “can” be helpful. However, not all spiritual persons are good at therapeutic counseling. In actual fact, we have lots of so-called “counselors” who do not have any formal training in counseling. So, try and see the right person. The easiest thing to do is to walk into any hospital and see a doctor who will link you with the right health professionals who are trained to assess and intervene appropriately.

What do you do if you are having thoughts of killing yourself or others?

If you are having a death wish, this is not normal! Get help fast!! The first thing to do is talk about it; keep talking about it. Talking about it (though not a guarantee) is one way of having relief from some of the negative emotions that are possibly triggering the wish. Don’t talk to just anybody; talk to someone who is higher than you spiritually or otherwise with some level of authority and insight that you consider higher than you enough to make you listen to them when they offer a suggestion or give you an order. I specifically mentioned spiritual because spirituality “may” be protective against suicide. We have come across seemingly spiritual, fulfilled and apparently emotionally balanced individuals who suddenly kill themselves. That is why it is good to be professionally practical in your approach to quelling the death wish.

  • Avoid being alone (if possible).
  • Stay away from weapons or potentially harmful objects.
  • If you can’t talk about it, write about it and keep writing until you show it to someone to initiate a discussion about your feelings and concerns.
  • Try to focus on positive thoughts and write out positive quotes to read out loud to yourself. Make plans for the future and stay hopeful that things will get better.
  • If there are psychosocial circumstances that need to be resolved, it is important to resolve them to ensure that their potentials of being triggers for suicidal intent or act are totally removed.
  • Lastly, medications offer a lot of respite in cases of underlying severe mental illness. A detailed assessment by a mental health professional will determine this.

Keeping the individual safe is the most important consideration. A controlled environment, preferably a hospital admission might be necessary for close monitoring and appropriate physical and psychological interventions.

The final part of this series will be focused on suicide in adolescents.

Thanks for reading this! Kindly share this freely; you might be saving a life!!

Stay safe and sane; help others do the same.

 

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Ola Ibigbami

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