Looking Through the Window of a Suicidal Person
“Despite my struggles, I achieved every goal I set for myself.
I volunteered at the crisis hotline and shared about my self-injury for the first time. I won awards for my writing. I discovered photography and showed my work in small galleries. I was an undergraduate researcher. I got my degree. I got accepted to a Ph.D. program back in my hometown of Miami. I had a family and friends all over the country willing to support me, no matter what.
I had a future, but I didn’t believe it.” – Excerpt taken from Livethroughthis.org
We often hear the “why” questions being asked when someone has committed suicide – because we simply cannot comprehend the fact that a person would willingly take his or her own life away, when most of us are battling to stay alive.
Suicide does not discriminate – it can happen to anyone, even the most successful or seemingly happiest person who has got everything in the world. In the lens of a person suffering from depression, the idea of death serves as a form of escape. Picture yourself stuck with a laptop/smartphone that lags and does not seem to respond to any action you attempted, what do you do? You would probably shut it down, restart, reboot etc. That is what a person with depression goes through – they feel “stuck”, life has reached a stagnant point and they have exhausted their energy and hope of trying to make their lives respond. The shutdown option becomes tempting.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), over 800,000 people die of suicide every year; that is 1 death by suicide in every 40 seconds. Suicide rate has increased 60% over the span of 45 years, with approximately 12 per 100,000 (Maniam & Chan, 2012).
A lot of times, due to our very own anxiety and sense of helplessness, we may respond to our loved ones’ cry of help with ignorance – sweeping the problem under the rug and go on our daily lives pretending the issue is not present. Or, we may attempt to problem-solve – “stop thinking so much and you will be ok!” “Why not you…” Despite the kind intention, these are not as helpful as we hoped them to be.
How do we then, help restore sense of hope (as glim as it may be) into their lives? First and foremost, let’s start off by believing that your words can be powerful. Believe that we are each responsible for, and have the power to bolster the well-being of those around us. That together, we are capable of forming a net to catch those who might be struggling.
Ask: If you notice and are worried someone is suicidal, ask directly, “Are you thinking about suicide?” – asking someone if they are thinking of suicide is not going to make them suicidal. Instead, you are lifting their anxiety and fear of talking to someone, allowing an honest conversation to happen.
Listen and empathize: If they say yes (or even if they say no), continue the conversation, ask what is going on. Don’t offer your advice/ opinion, just listen.
Be there for them: Tell them you care and love them. Tell them you’ll help them, and if you can’t, you will find someone who can. Ask them what they need – help make an appointment with a therapist, keep them company, a friend to hang out etc.
Keep in touch and follow up: Check in with them on how they are doing – send a text; share your food photos, gifts, and funny videos. Coordinate with other people they know so that someone is always in touch.
Having said that, this is not an easy task. Empathy requires energy, and sometimes we struggle at empathizing with our loved ones that are going through a rough patch. It is OK to struggle at times, know that you do not need to do this alone, help is always available.
*If you know someone who is currently struggling with suicidal ideation and is unsure of how to help, please feel free to contact us.