How do we recognize the signs of a person contemplating suicide and how can we help? Abigail Lee shares her insights.
“I’ve had enough”, “Life is no longer worth living”, “There is no way out”, “I want this pain to end once and for all”. Such negative words have never been heard more frequently than in today’s society, with our increasingly hectic lifestyles and accompanying stresses. When such negativity is prolonged, a sense of hopelessness can descend, which, if not dealt with, could lead to suicide.
Yet the emotions and frustrations felt by people who utter these words aren’t new—people just like us felt them even thousands of years ago. Even Elijah, the mighty prophet who experienced many of the Lord’s miracles once cried, “Enough of this, God! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!” (1 Kings 19:3-5, The Message)
When one is dealing with a crisis, sometimes the sense of hopelessness and helplessness can heighten and lead you to believe that there isn’t much support or alternative solutions. This can lead to suicidal thoughts arising, an occurrence that’s also known as suicidal ideation, which can potentially lead to a suicide attempt.
According to a report by the Samaritans of Singapore, the suicide rate in Singapore has remained steady at about 400 people a year for the past decade. However, this figure does not include unsuccessful attempts, nor those who have contemplated suicide, which means the actual number of people who need help, could be much higher. What’s more, the latest figures from 2013 show that 25 percent of all suicides were committed by young people aged 30 and below.
How can we identify the warning signs in an individual contemplating suicide so that we can prevent lives from being lost needlessly? While it’s usually a combination of several factors that makes someone seriously consider suicide, here are some things we can look out for if we suspect someone has suicidal tendencies:
Depression and hopelessness: Experiencing an enormous sense of sadness or shame over a prolonged period of time.
Recent traumatic events and life crises: The breaking of a relationship, divorce, death of a loved one, bad report of physical illness, unwanted pregnancy, poor grades, getting laid off from work or financial problems may intensify already-present suicidal thoughts.
Withdrawal from family and friends: Spending long hours alone in silence instead of spending time with family and friends.
Irrational outbursts: Becoming quick-tempered, crying easily or being easily upset by trivial things. This could also be a cry for help from an individual who finds it difficult expressing their feelings.
High dependencies or indulgences in drugs and alcohol: Where there is high or extreme usage of prescribed or non-prescribed medication, drugs or alcohol, the possibility of suicide must be considered.
Talking or writing about dying and suicide: About 80 per cent of those who choose to take their lives have either spoken or written about it. When suicidal thoughts are mentioned, they shouldn’t be taken lightly.
It’s important to speak to the individual directly about suicide if any of the above signs are apparent in them. Talking about suicide shouldn’t encourage someone to take their lives, but instead could bring relief, as it would help uncover any underlying reasons for the suicide attempt.
In addition, inclining our ears to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and applying our hearts to understanding how the individual feels (Proverbs 2:2) is crucial in helping us extend compassion and grace rather than with confrontation and insensitivity.
Other tips that might help include:
It’s a myth that we need to have all the answers before we can reach out to someone contemplating suicide. Many times, being non-judgmental, and seeking to understand their feelings carries more meaning for the individual compared to having lots of information shoved in their faces.
Listening with empathy and asking specific questions
- How often have they thought about suicide?
- Do they know how and where they would attempt it? What is their plan?
Most suicidal people feel no one cares about them, and asking such questions lets them know that someone is concerned about them. At this point it’s also important to take note that if the individual has indicated a plan to carry out the suicide, and has access to lethal materials, these materials should be removed and they should be getting professional help.
Being patient and exploring personal history
- Have they attempted suicide before?
- Have any of their family and friends attempted or taken their lives? If yes, what was the reason for doing so?
This helps to assess suicide risk as well as understand and discern their beliefs in regard to life and death. For example, if someone in their family had committed suicide as a result of stress, it could implant the belief that suicide is an option to consider when situations feel overwhelming.
Being kind and offering hope:
- Equipping the individual to learn how to access the peace of God (Philippians 4:7)
- Anchoring the individual to rest in hope through praise and worship (Psalm 16)
- Encouraging the individual to maintain focus on the faithfulness of God (Psalm 91)
- Have the individual pour out their complaints to the Lord (Psalm 142) and refer them to professional therapists who can assist in providing resolutions to their situation.
Finally, if you are trying to help someone who’s contemplating suicide, it’s important to be self-aware and recognize your limitations in helping them. When unsure or in doubt, it is recommended that individuals who are suicidal be referred for professional and pastoral counseling. Contact can also be made with Samaritans of Singapore at 1800-221-4444 for assistance and referral.
About Abigail Lee
Abigail Lee is Executive Director at Healing Hearts Centre, a private counseling and consulting practice that is committed to providing emotional healing through holistic counseling. She is a counselor, supervisor and trainer with experience in working with individuals, couples and families who are battling various life issues. With the use of Bible-based principles, she brings hope and restoration to those she works with. Abigail was also interviewed on the docu-drama ‘In Cold Blood 3’, and travels internationally, educating and training others in the field.