When hearing the word “suicide” many people express strong emotional thoughts or feelings associated with it. This is a serious issue that can be prevented on many levels if we continue to educate others and ourselves with information surrounding the causes, warning signs, and ways to help. Friends or family members are often the first defense against suicide.
Friends and family are impacted on many different levels when suicide occurs. Not only those, but others that know the family and friends. The children’s friends who question why their mom died or where that parent is on Family Day at school.
It is estimated that each suicide in the United States leaves an average of six people intimately affected by the death, either as a spouse, parent, significant other, sibling, or child of the deceased person. These people are referred to as survivors. It is estimated that 80% of all in home suicide scenes are cleaned up by a close friend, significant other, or a family member. Those that clean up a suicide scene of a close friend, significant other, or a family member are 75% more likely to commit suicide later on in life.
Here are some shocking figures to see regarding suicide:
According to official statistics, about a million people die by suicide annually, more than those murdered or killed in war. (1)
According to 2005 data, suicides in the U.S. outnumber homicides by nearly 2 to 1 and ranks as the 11th leading cause of death in the country, ahead of liver disease and Parkinson’s disease. (2)
According to a 2008 report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s, Center for Injury Research and Policy, the rate of suicide in the United States is increasing for the first time in a decade. The increase in the overall suicide rate between 1999 and 2005 was due primarily to an increase in suicides among whites aged 40–64, with white middle-aged women experiencing the largest annual increase. (3)
People die by suicide more often during spring and summer. The idea that suicide is more common during Christmas is a common misconception.
So, what do we need to know and look for to help prevent suicide from happening? Here are some warning signs that may be seen:
• Appearing depressed or sad
• Withdrawing or isolating from friends and family
• Feeling excessive guilt or shame
• Giving away possessions that are important to the individual
• Acting impulsively
• Acting recklessly
• Writing a will
• Talking or writing about death or suicide
• Losing interest in most activities
• Experiencing dramatic mood changes
• Feeling hopeless or helpless
• Feeling trapped like there is no way out or hope
• Experiencing a change in sleeping and/or eating habits
• Abusing drugs or alcohol
How can someone help a loved one that may be experiencing suicidal thoughts?
• Always take suicidal comments seriously.
• Listen attentively to the person and what they are telling you.
• Be comforting and let the person know you are concerned.
• Talk about suicide openly and ask questions.
o Are you feeling so bad that you are thinking about suicide?
o Have you thought about how you would do this?
o Have you thought about when you would do this?
• Get as much information if someone is openly talking about taking his or her life. The more planning they have done, the higher the risk that they will act on these plans.
• Don’t be judgmental or invalidate someone’s feelings or thoughts.
• Be cautious of what you say. Mainly listen and be understanding and kind.
• Contact a mental health professional that can help.
• When in doubt, contact 911 immediately.
• Don’t keep a secret for someone who is talking about suicidal intentions.
• Support them in taking a step toward feeling better.
o Make a phone call for an appointment and go with them.
o Call and check on them or visit often.
How can you help family and friends who may have lost a loved one to suicide?
Hope for Bereaved offers some suggestions for helping survivors of suicide at: http://www.survivingsuicide.com/cope.htm#surviv
Their basic needs are for kindness and caring. With time, understanding, and the concern of their friends, the survivor’s feelings of grief will soften. The following suggestions would apply to both the time immediately after the suicide, including the funeral, and for as long as necessary afterwards.
1. Make an extra special effort to go to the funeral home. The shock, denial, and embarrassment are overwhelming for the survivors. They need all the support they can get. Due to the cause of death, in most cases the coffin is left closed.
2. When going to the funeral home, do as you would normally do at any other type of wake. It will not be easy, since you sincerely want to comfort the bereaved person, but really don’t know what to say. Just a few words can be a help. “I am so very sorry, I just don’t know what else to say to you as I have never been through what you are going through now.” “Please accept my deepest and sincerest sympathies; my heart goes out to you.” When the person is close, take their hand, by all means hug them and don’t feel the need to say anything.
3. Don’t be afraid to cry openly if you were closed to the deceased. Often the survivors find themselves comforting you but at the same time they understand your tears and don’t feel so alone in their grief.
4. A note or visit in the weeks and months to come is of great help to the survivors.
5. Survivors may ask “Why?” It is best to say, “I don’t know why and maybe I’ll never know.”
6. Be aware that the survivor’s grief is so painful that sometimes it is easier to deny that it ever happened. Be patient and understanding. Sometimes this denial gives them a breather before the reality comes crashing in again.
7. Come to the survivors as a friend who sets aside prejudice and judgment. Show genuine and sincere interest.
8. Be a good listener. Survivors have a tendency to repeat and ramble. They may have a tremendous sense of guilt. It is helpful to listen over and over and over again.
9. Be patient. Often the survivor is the first one to realize that they are not easy to get along with, but they need people to persevere with them until their grief eases.
10. Don’t say, “Snap out of it.” Often the survivor reacts to such a statement by pushing down his or her feelings and thoughts, which slows the process of working through ones grief.
11. Be the type of friend with whom the survivor can talk and feel comfortable and accepted. Be available to spend time with the survivor. Most people find the best way to work through their emotions is to talk them out with someone they trust. When the survivor tells about their feelings often they are helped in understanding what is going on. Talking also releases some of their pressures. Often while talking the survivor comes up with his or her own solutions.
12. Never say “you’ll get over it in time.” Hopefully, the survivor will learn to deal with it and cope with it in time, but never will they “get over it.”
13. Be sincere if you ask, “How are you coming along?” and then really listen to what the survivor says. Don’t prevent him from talking. Don’t change the subject or walk away.
14. The anniversary of the suicide is a very painful time. Relatives and friends should make every effort to be available, to listen, to call, to visit, to send a note, to do little acts of thoughtfulness.
15. Accept the survivor’s feelings. Practice unconditional love. Feelings of rage, anger, and frustration are not pleasant to observe or listen to, but it is necessary for the survivor to recognize and work on these feelings in order to work through the grief rather than become stuck in one phase.
I was only 16 years old when I had my first experience with suicide. Unfortunately, none of the warning signs were present with this situation.
Being raised in a small town and living in a country setting didn’t allow for many neighbors near my age growing up. However, we did live near an older couple who were very energetic and enthusiastic about life in their older age. The beginning of my junior year of high school year, my neighbor came over for an afternoon visit with my family and was sharing some exciting news. They were to be hosting two exchange students for the year! Both were males and the same age as me, so my neighbor thought it would be a good thing if we met as a family for an introduction. My brother and I were both very excited to have kids our age living near us and driving along with us to school in the mornings. I offered to take the boys to school (it can be quite embarrassing to have an adult take you to school at this age…) and bring them back in the afternoons.
A few weeks later John and Julian arrived. John was from Portugal and Julian from Germany. Both were a bit timid and shy, but began to warm up quite quickly. John spoke better English than Julian at first but Julian was catching on very quickly. Between the two of them they spoke somewhere around 8 different languages. I was doing well to speak proper English. John was a bit more outgoing and seemed to fit in very easily with many of the other students.
John and Julian had been in the states for a couple of months and John had developed a bit of a crush on one of the young girls in school. Julian was getting involved in other activities such as karate after school. Everything seemed quite normal and the boys would share stories with me about their homes and families. They would come over to my house for dinner with the family and we would all laugh and tell stories.
One Thursday afternoon I had pulled up to the neighbors house to drop the boys off and Julian hopped out of the car quickly because he had karate practice soon. John was sitting in the back and had been quiet on the drive home. I asked him if everything was okay and he sort of shrugged his shoulders and was hesitant to tell me what he was thinking about. I asked again, and he said that the girl he was dating broke-up with him today at school. He was questioning why she did this and if he was not fun, and numerous other reasons he was toying with in his mind. I assured him that none of that could have been the case, and that it was probably something she was struggling with personally in her life. Maybe she was doing poorly in her studies and needed to concentrate more on that. I continued to reassure him, and encouraged him to not dwell on this. I wanted him to have an enjoyable experience while he was here. This was a wonderful opportunity to explore a new country, meet friends and have fun. There was to be a school function the next night and I began encouraging him to look forward to this and that we would hang out together with a big group of friends and it would be a lot of fun.
He seemed to be feeling a bit better after 45 minutes of chatting about this, and I realized I was running late to get home. (The rule in my home was to have all homework completed or near completion by the time our parents arrived home from work.) I invited John up for dinner since Julian would be at karate late. He said that he would get going on his homework and make sure it was okay with the neighbor and then give me a call. I never got a call from John.
Our phone rang around 10:30pm that Thursday night and my first thought was fear… (We were not to be on the phone past 10:oo on school nights and all of our friends knew this, who in their right minds would be calling our house to get the wrath of my parents). A few minutes later my mom came into my room and said I needed to get up that there had been an accident and she wanted to talk to me about it.
John had shot himself and was at the hospital. They did not think he was going to make it. My heart stopped and my mind began racing. Was he cleaning a gun and it accidentally went off, did he drop it and it shot on impact, or what could have happened? Never did I think that he intentionally took his life. My mom explained the details of what occurred and explained that he did write some letters and that he had committed suicide. John died later that night.
I did not sleep that night and continued to question what more I could have said to him that afternoon to make him feel better. I replayed it over and over in my mind. Why would he have done this? What was his family going to say?
We held a funeral for him and his parents were there. I couldn’t speak to them at that time… I didn’t know what to say or how I would say anything without breaking down into tears. I spent a lot of time speaking about this and processing what had happened to help me get through all the emotions I was feeling. There were many friends, family, and professionals that helped me through this experience. I now know that it was not one particular thing that made John act on this impulse, there were numerous things going on with him personally.
I can still remember vividly the Thursday afternoon discussion with him sitting in the back seat of my car before he went into the house the night he took his life. This will forever be part of my life and my history. Suicide not only affects the individual but numerous friends and family that are part of that individual’s life. With education and understanding I was able to make my way through this experience. The more we can openly discuss and educate each other with how suicide can occur and how to cope with its effects, hopefully we can all contribute to its prevention.
1. “Suicide prevention”. WHO Sites: Mental Health. World Health Organization. February 16, 2006. http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/. Retrieved on 2008-09-16.
2. “2005 Data” (PDF). Suicide Prevention. Suicidology.org. 2005. http://www.suicidology.org/associations/1045/files/2005datapgs.pdf. Retrieved on 2008-03-24.
3. U.S. Suicide Rate Increasing Newswise, Retrieved on October 21, 2008.
4. “Are Suicide Rates Higher at Christmas?” (PDF). Centre For Suicide Prevention. 1995. http://www.suicideinfo.ca/csp/assets/alert16.pdf.
5. American Association of Suicidology - Survivors
6. International Suicide Prevention.SubscribeBlinklistBloglinesBlogmarksDiggdel.icio.usFacebookFurlNewsVineRedditStumbleUponTechnorati