The second most asked question during my presentations is, "How do you know if someone is suicidal?" Often, the person asking has a friend or loved one who is acting unusual and they are concerned for their safety.
Two important points to make - No two of us are exactly the same therefore we behave differently when unwell and if you think someone is unwell it is imperative that you get them urgent specialist help from a qualified psychologist. I cannot stress upon you enough the importance of this second point. Don’t try to ‘fix’ them yourself because you can’t.
There are some generalisations that we can make. In my former role I would speak with people at the extreme end of the suicidal spectrum. Most would have struggled with their emotions for some time and were now seeking to end their unseen pain.
Their behaviour was always the same - quiet, head down, no eye contact, reluctance to engage in conversation, hunched over. They are quiet because they don’t want to talk, often they can’t talk. Engaging in conversation, looking at someone, and going over what they are going through is the last thing that they want to do. But it is the most important thing for them to do.
Initially, most of us when we are under emotional turmoil will become fidgety, will have restless legs, can’t sit still for more than a minute, and will not be able to focus on a single topic. Our ‘normal’ thoughts will be buried by whatever the catalyst was for our decline.
As the person becomes more unwell, you will notice changes in their;
· Mood – they become moody, sullen and may snap back at you.
· Diet – they won’t want to eat and will lose weight.
· Sleep patterns – these are disrupted (they lie awake at night) and their energy levels decline as a result.
· Alcohol and drugs – they will try to numb the pain with alcohol and/or drugs.
· Expressing feelings – They may express feeling of hopelessness and helplessness and not talk about the future. They may even talk about suicide and/or death.
· Withdrawn – Perhaps the biggest sign of being really unwell is that they will become withdrawn, won’t engage, will sit in their room, isolate themselves.
Essentially, they do everything that they shouldn’t do that would make themselves better as their brain looks for alternative options. The brain isn’t thinking straight, logic has gone, rational behaviour has gone, the fight or flight responses are in full alert.
So what should you do with someone who you suspect is suicidal. Talk. Talk with them and encourage them to get help. If this doesn’t work, you may need to bring someone in to help you or perhaps talk with an expert yourself for guidance.
I could tell you what I would do in my former role but that wouldn’t be of any help to you. Crisis negotiators ‘shake them and take them’. We shake them out of their immediate state and take them to an expert. Sure, what we say to the person would probably work for you, but then what?
Talk to the person who is unwell, ask them if they are okay, tell them you fear for their safety and importantly that you love them dearly. Encourage them to get help, get help for them if they won’t do it for themselves and most of all, just be there for them.
Being there to support the person is the best thing that any of us can do. Let them know that they are not alone, because they will feel as though they are. Alone.