Suicide: what you need to know

“Suicide sometimes comes from cowardice, but not always; because cowardice sometimes prevents it; since so many live because they are afraid of dying, as they die because they are afraid of living.”
Charles Caleb Colton

Few people know that suicide remains one of the leading causes of death for people around the world. It really is a global problem. However, it is a sad fact when you consider the number of preventive measures available to handle these tragic situations. Unfortunately, it is also the essence of suicide that makes it difficult for you to truly protect your loved ones.

In rare cases, there may not be any signs or symptoms before a person commits suicide. However, making a consistent effort to spend time with the people you care about can help you be more in tune with the warning signs that others would have easily missed.

A person is at high risk for suicide if they have any of the following signs or symptoms:

• Talking, thinking, or writing about suicidal thoughts, even occasionally.
• Make a conscious effort to acquire a means of committing suicide, for example, storing pills or buying a weapon.
• Showing behaviors that indicate social isolation, such as spending too much time alone or avoiding contact with other people.
• Have extreme or even occasional mood swings for unexplained reasons.
• Spending too much time thinking or talking about topics related to violence or death.
• Admit that they feel hopeless or trapped by a particular situation in their personal life, at school or at work.
• Increased use of drugs, alcohol, nicotine or any other form of substance abuse.
• Sudden and unexplained changes in your usual routine, such as your sleeping patterns and eating habits.
• Taking sudden and unnecessary risks with their lives, such as reckless driving, gambling, using drugs, or having unprotected sex.
• Write your last will, make arrangements to dispose of your belongings in case they are gone, or give away belongings seemingly without a valid reason.
• Say goodbye as if they are leaving or leaving forever.
• Exhibiting significant personality changes, as well as a severe inability to cope with stress and anxiety or life in general.

It is always best to play it safe when dealing with people who may be at risk for suicide. If you have any reason to expect that a loved one has thoughts of harming themselves, you should contact the appropriate authorities about it. Be sure to share your concerns with others so they can care for your loved one, too.

If you are personally in danger of committing suicide, there are proactive steps you can take to prevent it. The coping strategies below cover it in more detail, but here are some of the main points to consider.

• Talk to a loved one or a close friend about what is happening. Be encouraged to be completely honest about your situation.
• Contact the suicide prevention hotlines. Crisis helplines are free and 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
• Talk to a spiritual advisor if you think this could help your situation.
• Seek professional help.

It is difficult to pin down the exact cause of suicide. However, a surprising fact is the possibility that genetics have to do with suicide. Some studies show that there may be a genetic component relevant to suicide. If there is a history of suicide in your family, it can also put you at higher risk for suicide. This is not intended to alarm anyone who may find themselves in this particular situation. Rather, it is intended to train people to be aware of the potential risks. Being aware of the potential risks can be very rewarding. In other words, once you know there could be a potential risk, you can better equip yourself with the necessary coping skills and strategies listed below.

Here is a list of situations that commonly act as triggers for suicidal thoughts or actual suicide attempts.

• Do you feel lonely, socially isolated, or hopeless in your life?
• Has something particularly stressful happened in your life recently and is it something you feel you cannot cope with? Examples of this include, but are not limited to, losing a loved one, participating in your first battle as a military officer, breaking up with your partner, being diagnosed with a serious medical condition, discovering that you are bankrupt, or becoming a target of a lawsuit.
• Substance abuse is not always a symptom of suicide. Sometimes it can be one of your triggers because its side effects can make you more open to suicidal thoughts.
• Do you have access to any means to attempt suicide?
• Could she be suffering from some kind of psychiatric disorder? This includes, but is not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, paranoia, phobia, or psychosis.
• Is there a history of mental disorder of any kind in your family? What about a history of suicide, physical abuse, or substance abuse?
• Do you suffer from any type of illness in which depression is one of its possible symptoms?
• Do you suffer any kind of discrimination?
• Is there something important in your life that you do not receive critical support from your loved ones? An example of this is if your family does not approve of your lifestyle, your job, or your decision to come out as gay.

Special factors should be considered if you are concerned about children or adolescents committing suicide.

• Is your child likely to have some type of mental or psychiatric disorder, diagnosed or not?
• Is your child worried about a troubled relationship with a family member or close friend?
• Is there a history of any type of abuse in your family?
• Is your child exposed to substance abuse of any kind?
• Is your daughter pregnant?
• Is there a possibility that your child has an STD or a sexually transmitted infection of any kind?
• Is your child experiencing harassment or discrimination?
• Does your child seem to have problems with his sexual orientation?

Sometimes what you need to be aware of is the tendency or possibility that a loved one will commit murder. If that is likely, then suicide may also follow. Unfortunately, this type of tragedy happens far too often. The amount of suffering it causes is immeasurable. But it can be avoided by teaching people to learn to cope with rejection and failure. If a person hasn’t developed coping skills and life takes a bad hit, things can sometimes get worse. When people can’t cope and are left to their own devices, tragedy usually follows. Everyone needs help at some point in their life. Some of the main problems that can lead to suicide are:

• Relationship problems, such as extramarital affairs, sexual abuse, and control problems and jealousy.
• Financial problems, such as bankruptcy, unexpected rent increases, or discovering that you have lost a large amount of money on your investment.
• Legal problems, such as learning that you may have inadvertently committed a crime or that someone else is suing you.

It is a sad fact that there are also certain types of prescription drugs that consider depression a possible side effect. If you or a loved one have no choice but to take this type of medication, then you should be more vigilant for any unusual actions, behaviors, or thoughts.
Be sure to tell a friend or family member if you are taking medications that could alter your personality. Someone on the outside looking inward, so to speak, might recognize the signs that something is not right before you do.

Here are a number of key strategies you can use to help yourself, a friend, or a family member. It barely touches the topic, so I would encourage people to do more research on the topic via the internet, books, and self-help groups. Remember, knowledge is power!

• Don’t do anything right now. You may be in a lot of pain, but try to distance yourself from your thoughts and actions. Being depressed and thinking about suicide is completely different from actually doing it. It’s depression and stress that make you think in a way that you normally wouldn’t. Give you a chance. Tell yourself that you will give it another day or even a week just to give yourself a chance to think rather than act.

• If you are taking drugs and / or alcohol, suicidal thoughts can become even stronger. These substances will alter your natural way of thinking. I have no doubt that many people committed suicide under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol only compound the problems that people have to deal with. The world is a completely different place when you are sober. Reality can be difficult at times, but it is the only reality we have. And we can live in this reality if we give ourselves a chance. There are ways to face and overcome our problems.

• Identify situations that trigger feelings of despair or that generate suicidal thoughts. It could be the upcoming anniversary of the loss of a loved one, the excessive use of alcohol or drugs, and the stress of breaking up in a relationship or struggling with one’s sexual identity. There are, of course, many other reasons, but the most important thing is to be aware of what triggers it. Simply being honest with yourself can take a lot of weight off your shoulders and help you avoid these triggers later in life.

• The nature of depression or the feeling of suicide means that a person wants to isolate himself from society and from everyone around him. Due to this fact, it can make things seem difficult to recover, but this is not true. Even if you don’t want or don’t feel like talking to people you know, there are crisis helplines that people can use to talk about their feelings. Remember, we are social creatures and it is never a good idea to try to go it alone.

• Try to create a support network for yourself. Have phone numbers handy in case you need them. Always have someone just a phone call away. It could be your GP, a friend, a family member, or a crisis line. When all else fails, a crisis line could be your salvation. Remember, you are never really alone because crisis lines are available 24/7. People volunteering wouldn’t be on the other end of the line unless they cared. People care about other people, so you are not alone.

• Beware. What you eat and drink and how much fresh air and exercise you get is very important. I can tell you that fresh air and a short walk (which is free by the way) is very helpful. Even basic deep breathing exercises can put you in a different mindset. • It is important to remember that nothing stays the same. I understand that this may seem difficult to accept when you are feeling depressed or suicidal, but it is true. When life deals severe blows to us, it takes time to recover. After all, we are only human. We have to give ourselves a chance. One small step at a time is the key to achieving something great. Taking on too much too soon is never a good idea. When a young child first begins to learn to walk, he falls many times. But no matter how many times the child falls, he keeps getting up until he learns to stand on his own two feet. Life does the same when we get older, but remember, it never stays the same as long as we get up and move on. It doesn’t matter how many times it takes!

Copyright Piaras O Cionnaoith 2013.

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