This is a hard one. Let’s start with what we've learnt over the last week and what we now know.
At a glance:
- The factors associated with suicide are varied and complex.
- Predicting who will take their life is extremely difficult, even for experienced professionals.
- There are several common characteristics of suicide, including a sense of unbearable psychological pain, a sense of isolation from others, lack of belonging, feeling trapped and hopeless and a burden on others and the perception that death is the only solution when the individual is temporarily not able to think clearly due to being blinded by overwhelming pain and suffering.
- Excruciating negative emotions – including shame, guilt, anger, fear and sadness – frequently serve as the foundation for self-destructive behaviour. These emotions may arise from any number of sources.
So the question 'Why did they take their life?' is complex and unfortunately we may never be able to be completely resolved. The most honest answer is that we don't fully understand it.
A number of years ago, we lost one of our clients to suicide. It was a tragic loss. It was devastating. And shocking. And it was overwhelmingly unexpected. Even to the individual’s treating team.
There are indeed some suicides that occur without warning. They may be impulsive behaviours. Or the level of distress may have been very well hidden by the individual. To the point that may appear completely unexpected to those around them. We'll never know why they happened. But this is not the norm.
The majority of suicides have indeed been preceded by warning signs, whether verbal or behavioural. Most people experiencing suicidality — including those who are more ambivalent about suicide — consciously or unconsciously drop those around them some hints.
Some of the warning signs that a loved one might be considering suicide include:
- Major changes in sleep patterns – too little or too much
- Losing energy
- No interest in personal hygiene or appearance
- Losing interest in sex
- Sudden and extreme changes in eating habits
- More minor illnesses
- Alcohol or drug misuse
- Fighting or illegal activities
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Stopping activities they used to enjoy
- Past suicidal behaviour
- Putting affairs in order – giving possessions away, making funeral arrangements.
- Writing a suicide note or goodbye letters
- Risk-taking or recklessness
- Unexplained crying
- Possessing lethal means – medication, weapons.
- Emotional outbursts
- A sense of hopelessness or no hope for the future – “what’s the point? Things are never going to get better?
- Isolation or feeling alone – “No one understands me”.
- Aggressiveness and irritability – “Leave me alone”.
- Negative view of self – “I am worthless”.
- Guilt – “It’s all my fault, I’m to blame”.
- Frequently talking about death – “If I died would you miss me?”.
- Feeling like a burden to others – “You would be better off without me”.
- Making suicide threats – “Sometimes I feel like I just want to die”.
It’s so important that we all know and respond to these warning signs. The very best thing we can do if we notice any of the above is to raise the issue with the person we love. They won’t take their own life just because we’ve had a conversation with them about it. We know the opposite is true. Instead, we’ll have the opportunity to reassure them that we care, we’re here to help and that they’re not alone.
Every suicide, like every person, is different. We can’t prevent every person in excruciating psychological distress from taking their own life. But if we can reach out to those who are sending us the signals, maybe with the right help and support, they can go on to live a more enjoyable life.
If you’re concerned about a loved one’s risk of suicide or this post has raised concerns for you, please contact one of the below organisations who can provide 24/7 support, information and referral:
Lifeline 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 www.kidshelp.com.au
MensLine 1300 78 99 78 www.mensline.org.au