The warning signs of suicide and how to cope with the loss of a loved one – online counsellors The Clearing break the stigma
Ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day this Friday, Joanne Thornton – Clinical Associate at The Clearing – talks us through the psychology of suicide
By Joanne Thornton, Qualified Counsellor and Clinical Associate at The Clearing
Suicide can be a difficult subject to talk about.
It’s frightening to think that life could feel so hard, that someone we love might not want to continue on anymore.
Although decriminalised way back in 1961, there’s still a lot of stigma and misunderstanding surrounding suicide. But the truth is that suicidal thoughts or ideations can affect any one of us and are not specific to age, economic or social status, race, gender or ethnicity.
There are often various reasons why a person may feel overwhelmed and are experiencing suicidal thoughts. These may include ill mental health, relationship problems, financial difficulties, employment complications, a diagnosis of a serious health condition, the loss of a loved one or someone important, alcohol or substance misuse, bullying and social embarrassment.
We like to believe that suicide is always preventable. However, those in crisis often fear judgement whilst in such a vulnerable mental state and don’t reach out for support. They fear being referred to as an “attention seeker” or feeling like a burden to those close to them. It’s not unusual when someone feels in such despair that their judgement can become clouded. They may not feel that they will get the support they need and, as a result, become more withdrawn and isolated.
Often reaching out feels impossible to them, in case they’re met with criticism rather than compassion. The fear of hospitalisation can often be a huge concern for those experiencing dark thoughts, too. All this combined can make suicide seem like the only option.
The process of suicide is complex and unique to each individual. It’s thought that once a person makes the decision to end their life, they gain a sense of inner peace with the knowledge that their pain is going to end. A plan will be created – sometimes with a specific time and date set, with a place in mind of where they’re choosing to end their life. This can provide a sense of relief and feelings of being in control.
If you’re concerned about a loved one, low mood and withdrawal are the key warning signs that suggest they may need support. It can also be the case that you notice a sudden, almost euphoric improvement in their mood. This shift, if not linked to any tangible improvements in their situation, can be a sign that they have made a plan to take their own life.
HOW TO SUPPORT SOMEONE WHO IS EXPERIENCING SUICIDAL THOUGHTS
Supporting someone who has disclosed suicidal ideation can be challenging. It’s important to remind them that they are loved and that their purpose is still vitally important.
Offer empathy and reassurance that you can sense things are extremely difficult for them, but try to gently remind them that these feelings will pass. Ask them what they feel they need: What do they need from you? Is there anything that will help ease things for them presently? It can be difficult for those in distress to articulate how they are feeling and finding the correct words can be impossible. In such instances, asking the person to score their mood on a scale of 1-10 is sometimes easier for them. Alternatively, using the traffic light technique to colour their mood, although less precise, can feel less intense.
Although the focus will tend to be on the person in distress, it’s important to be mindful of self-care for yourself during such times. Supporting a person in a crisis can be exhausting.
Should you feel that a friend, family member or loved one is in any immediate danger after disclosing suicidal thoughts, stay with them and avoid leaving them alone where possible. Remove items that you feel would be a potential danger to them – such as medication, sharp objects, alcohol, drugs – or items that could be used to restrict air entry into the person’s lungs. Talk to them about any plans they may have made. This is to gather as much information as possible, should they become difficult to locate.
Acknowledging the person’s pain and hearing their despair can be beneficial. Talk to them about their choices and plans they may have. Reflect how the funeral may be planned, who may be present at the service and what life may be like for those left behind. These reflections and thought process are sometimes enough to encourage the person to re-evaluate their choices.
There is always professional help available, such as the person’s GP (or 111 if the disclosure is made outside surgery hours), the NHS mental health team (if one has been assigned), counselling services and the Samaritans (116 123). If you feel that the person is in immediate danger or has taken any substances or harmed themselves, ring 999 or go directly to A&E for medical attention.
HOW TO LOOK AFTER YOURSELF IF YOU HAVE LOST SOMEONE TO SUICIDE
Losing a family member, friend or loved one to suicide can be devastating. Often those left behind feel a sense of responsibility and concern they could have/should have done more.
We’re faced with lots of different emotions, some of which we may not have experienced before. Feelings of despair, shock, anger, disbelief, rejection, abandonment, depression and anxiety are common during the grieving process. Feelings of relief can also be experienced and are regarded as normal.
As part of the planning in a person’s suicide decision, there is sometimes time taken to write a letter(s) to those they are leaving behind. The contents of such a letter(s) can vary from each individual. The content may include information such as offering a reason why they no longer feel compatible with life, asking loved ones for their forgiveness, apologising for their decision or telling them they’ve taken responsibility for ending their life. Without a letter, family and loved ones often have no explanation and can carry the burden of responsibility for the loss of their loved one. Additionally, without a letter, those left behind often carry anger which is difficult to place, making the stage of acceptance more difficult to reach within their grieving process. They can be left with an everlasting question of – why?
Any grieving process is difficult and painful, but often the feelings and emotions experienced following a death by suicide can feel more intense. So much so that the process can result in marital and non-marital relationships breaking down.
As with our physical health, our mental health needs to be nurtured and cared for. As most of us will possess a first aid box somewhere in our home in case of physical injuries, it’s good practice to create a similar ‘box’ for mental health injuries, to assist when we feel a dip in our mood.
Contents may be actual objects or something that is symbolic to the chosen aid. Suggestions of positive activities may also be helpful, such as cards suggesting you go for a walk, reach out to a friend or loved one for support, read a book, listen to music, have a bath, take some time to relax, create positive affirmations or be creative. All of these are useful as a distraction from potentially disturbing thoughts. Sometimes, even just a note reminding us that things will improve is enough to give us a boost.
If necessary, contact a professional for help and support. It’s important to establish healthy coping strategies and avoiding unhealthy strategies wherever possible.
Remember: it is OK not to be OK. We all struggle at times.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, these are simply a sign that you need some help and that something in your life needs to change so that you can move forward. Reach out to loved ones for support and consider counselling to help you get to the root of the issues.
The Clearing Online offers counselling from the comfort of your own home, or from another safe place chosen by you. You are able to choose from online or telephone sessions that provide a space for you to explore your thoughts in a non-judgemental, confidential manner.
Even the darkest of nights pass and, with the right support, you will be able to find happiness again.
To find out more about how Joanne and the team at The Clearing can support you with potentially suicidal thoughts or to cope with the loss of a loved one to suicide, visit their website
Struggling to cope? Call Samaritans on 116 123 for free – they’re available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
If you feel like you or someone you love is in immediate danger of suicide, ring 999 or go directly to A&E for medical attention