Here’s How to Recognise the Signs of Suicide & How to Help

Is your friend or loved one talking about suicide, feeling hopeless or isolating themselves? Here is how to help.

Updated
Mind It
6 min read
Read expert tips on recognising the signs of suicide, and ways you can help prevent suicides. 
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(FIT is republishing this story on expert tips for suicide prevention in the light of World Suicide Day on 10 September.)

(If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs)

On Thursday, 6 April, Television actor Sameer Sharma was found dead in his apartment in Malad, Mumbai.

The actor died on Wednesday night by an alleged suicide said Malad police officials. A senior investigate officer said his body has been sent for an autopsy, and the investigation is ongoing reported Hindustan Times.

Sharma had worked in popular TV shows like Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Left Right Left and films such as Hasee Toh Phasee and Ittefaq.

How to Help Prevent Suicide

In the COVID-19 lockdown, mental health disorders are rising and media discussions around mental health are too. The recent suicide of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput has put the attention on just how important mental healthcare is.

Suicide has long been vilified, criminalised or stigmatised - but experts suggest that talking about it can actually help reduce suicides.

Psychiatrist Dr Soumitra Pathare says that one of the biggest myths is that suicide is not preventable. In reality, there are many things we can do to help people in distress and lower suicide rates. 
Here’s How to Recognise the Signs of Suicide & How to Help
(Photo: FIT/Aroop Mishra)

Dr Pathare is a consultant psychiatrist and Director of Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy at ILS, and someone who helped draft India’s new mental health law.

FIT earlier reported on families who lost loved ones to suicide. In the period after, they all realised that the person who died was silently suffering, they all noticed the signs of them being withdrawn, irritable and low.

Understanding Suicide

First, it’s important to recongise that suicide is not always linked to any mental health disorder.

“Almost half of the people who die from suicide in India do not have any diagnosable mental health illnesses.”
Dr Soumitra Pathare

Suicide is often caused by multiple factors, and one of the surest ways of prevention is having a strong support system of friends, family or mental health professionals, according to SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.)

“It is a desperate cry for help,” adds Dr Pathare. “It is an emotional decision, and almost half of the suicides in India tend to be impulsive. Research showed that most suicide attempts are without the intent of killing themselves, but because they are distressed.”

So a fight with your husband or boss can trigger intense emotions, and because we don't know how to, or have a space to deal with these valid, real, human emotions constructively we may take a drastic step.

It’s the last, littlest voice that wants us to listen and if we do, we can save lives and most suicide survivors are happy to be alive.

Recognising the Signs

  • Talking About Being Depressed, Killing Themselves

One of the most common signs is when a person talks about killing themself. It is important to not ignore someone who opens up about feeling low or abandoned or alone. Hvovi Bhagwagar, a clinical psychologist from Mumbai says, “ Notice if the person repeatedly says things like, “ I feel low, it would be better if I ended things,” “there’s no way out”

  • Feeling Helpless, Hopeless & Overwhelmed

Dr Kamna Chhibber, Clinical Psychologist, Head, Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences at Fortis Healthcare, adds that “expressions of feeling helpless and hopeless or sharing thoughts that relate to the inability of being able to manage or overcome circumstances, accompanied by feelings of worthlessness,” are all warning signs.

It can often get overwhelming to hear, but its important to lend a shoulder and then refer them to a therapist if it gets too much for you alone.

  • Increased Substance Abuse

Nyana Sabarwal, a mental health professional and suicide interventionist told me that she lost her mother to suicide. “Looking back, I understand that she self-medicated with substance abuse,” she says.

  • Isolating

Withdrawing into oneself. stepping back from activities we once loved, and avoiding friends and family is another sign that things may not be alright. “Sudden non-response to group chats or personal messages can be a sign,” adds Bhagwagar.

“Suddenly disconnecting from work and social interactions,” can be a sign too says Dr Chhibber.

  • Previous Suicide Attempts

Any suicide attempt needs to be taken extremely seriously and not ignored. If the person is actively looking for ways to die by “acquiring a weapon, stockpiling pills, searching online for “ways to die” these are major sign says Bhagwagar. She adds that self-harm (cutting themselves, substance abuse) is another sign to watch out for.

  • Social Media

Our lives are online, especially in lockdown, and social media posts can often tell us a lot about a person. “Look for dark messages; the person may send forwards or messages of helplessness and despair,” says Bhagwagar.

  • Putting Their Affairs in Order

Bhagwagar says that often people giving away prized possessions and getting their affairs in order suddenly could be an indicator of something deeper going on.

  • Erratic Moods

The person affected may have mood swings, and feel extremely low. “They may cry all the time, and fear being left alone,” says Bhagwagar.

  • Recent or Past Trauma

Dr Chhibber adds that “any recent trauma or negative life events” can often be a trigger and sign.

If you know anyone who is saying things like:

  • “I’m tired of life, I just can’t go on.”
  • “My family would be better off without me.”
  • “Who cares if I’m dead anyway.”
  • “I won’t be around much longer.”
  • “I wish I were dead.”
  • “I’m going to end it all.”
  • “If (such and such) doesn’t happen, I’ll kill myself.”

It’s time to get them the help they need.

Ways to Help

  • Talk and LISTEN

The best thing we can do for each other is talk - ask your friends and family how they are doing, check in and be there. “Listening” is one of the most important tools to help says Dr Chhibber.

Now, this is harder than it sounds, but talking about mental health openly and creating a safe space can literally save lives.

“When we come across someone who hints at suicide we usually feel anxious, fearful, and immobilized. Overcome the fear ACT quickly. Turning away from a suicidal person is fear in action. Turning toward and helping a suicidal person is courage in action.”
Hvovi Bhagwagar, Clinical Psychologist
  • Give Them Space

She adds that, “All efforts to persuade someone to live versus attempt suicide will be met with agreement and relief, don’t hesitate to get involved or take the lead. People in crisis forget who loves and cares for them. They may not wish to get family involved. Take that step to sit with them as they connect to loved ones.”

  • Ask questions

Often, the best way is the most direct one and Bhagwagar suggests directly asking the person: “Have you been Unhappy lately?” or “Do you wish to sleep and never wake up?”

  • Don’t Belittle Them

“Try not to demean others experience by sharing your own or saying these things happen,” says Dr Chhibber.

Give them time, don’t interrupt and create a safe space for them to vent. “ Remove sharp objects, dangerous ingestible substances,” advises Bhagwagar. Once they feel safe, try and suggest activities to do together and if you are comfortable broach the worries they have and try to come up with a solution. “Suicide is not the problem, it is a solution to a perceived insoluble problem. If we can offer support, they might not die.”

  • Remind Them of Support Systems, Encourage Them to Seek Help
Another important reminder is that there are experts who can help ease the crisis - keep resources handy and reach out to counsellors or helplines.

“If you can act as a support system let them know, or encourage them to seek help,” says Dr Chhibber.

Suicide Prevention

FIT has previously reported on suicide prevention as a multi-pronged, multi-sectoral strategy.

This means that we have to study suicide outside of just mental health and see the various prongs it is connected to in India. For example, India has a high incidence of student suicides and here, education policy intervention can address the issues in a targeted way.

Recently, Dr Pathare has been vocal on sensitive media reportage of high-profile celebrity suicides, as it can often lead to copycat suicides.

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