What to do when someone is suicidal
Everjoy Maramba Correspondent
An eighteen (18) year old Muku Matambo(not his real name), on several occasions spoke to his mother of suicidal thoughts.
Since Muku in the past had used crystal meth (dombo) she thought it may have been adolescent behaviour combined with drugs that may have distorted his thinking. She hoped he would overcome.
One Sunday morning Muku’s mother had to go to church and pick up a few groceries.
When she returned, she went downstairs to the laundry and she found her son hanging. She was alone in the house and by herself.
Crying and in disbelief she managed to call to seek for assistance. She was traumatised to find her child hanging and dead in her home.
Muku’s mother said that she is feeling guilty and repeatedly asks herself questions of why was she so naive not to believe her son when he spoke of suicide.
This is something that no parent would want to experience.
Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have long-lasting effects on individuals, families, and communities.
As a result, society has to take any suicidal talk or behaviour seriously.
It is not just a warning that the person is thinking about suicide but it is a cry for help though it is difficult for those who are not in the grips of suicidal depression and despair to understand what drives Muku to take his own life.
But a suicidal person is in so much mental health pain that they cannot see any other option. Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable.
Individuals would be blinded by feelings of hopelessness, isolation and self –loathing and they cannot see any way of finding relief except through death.
Despite their desire for the pain to stop, most suicidal people are deeply conflicted about ending their lives and wish if there was an alternative but they cannot see one.
As a result, it is everyone’s responsibility to help them find alternatives. Almost everyone who attempt suicide has given some clue or warning like Muku.
Stop ignoring them anticipating that people who talk about suicide will not really do it.
Even, indirect references to death like statements such as, “You will be sorry when I am gone.”
No matter how casually or jokingly said, it may indicate serious mental health problems causing suicidal feelings.
As a result, talking openly and honestly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can help save a life.
Many people are of the view that, talking about suicide may give someone the idea. It is just a myth but the opposite is true.
If you believe that a friend or family member is suicidal, you can play a role in suicide prevention by pointing out the alternatives, showing that you care and getting a psychologist involved.
We have to stop thinking that if someone is determined to kill themselves, nothing is going to stop them.
What we do not know is that, every severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death.
What they really want is for the pain to stop hence the impulse to end their lives does not last forever if they get help as soon as possible.
Suicidal thoughts prevention tips
1: Speak up if you are worried. Talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal thoughts and feelings can be extremely difficult for anyone.
If you are unsure whether someone is suicidal the best way to find out is to ask.
No one can make a person suicidal by showing that you care. In fact, give the suicidal person an opportunity to express feelings.
This can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings and may prevent a suicide attempt.
To start a conversation one may say; “Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.” You may ask; “Did something happen to make you start feeling this way?”
Again, you may help by saying; “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel but I care about you and want to help.”
When talking to a suicidal person be yourself, listen, be sympathetic and non-judgemental, offer hope and take the person seriously. However, you should stop argue with the suicidal person, act shocked, promise confidentiality and make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. If it fails, do not blame yourself, you cannot fix someone else’s depression but just trying to help.
2: Respond quickly in a crisis. Those at the highest risk for committing suicide have specific plan, the means to carry out the plan and time set. If a friend or family member tells you of suicide, it is important to evaluate the immediate danger the person is in by asking their suicidal plan.
Those who have suicidal thoughts with no suicidal plan are at lower risk than individuals with suicidal thoughts and specific plan that is highly lethal. If a suicidal attempt seems imminent, remove drugs, knives and other potential lethal objects from the vicinity and do not leave a suicidal person alone like what Muku’s mother did.
3: Offer help and support. If a friend or family member is suicidal, the best way to help is by offering an empathetic, listening ear. Let your loved one know that he or she is not alone and that you care. However, do not take responsibility for healing your loved one. You can offer support but you cannot make a suicidal person get better hence help them find a professional therapist or counsellor.
It takes a lot of courage to help someone who is suicidal. Witnessing a loved one dealing with thoughts about ending their own life can stir up many difficult emotions. As a result, as you are helping a suicidal person, do not forget to take care of yourself.
—-Everjoy Maramba is a counselling psychologist intern