For many years, I have seen the devastating impact that a successful suicide has on family and friends. Not just from the loss of a dear loved one, but the feelings of guilt, regret, remorse, shame, and wishing that they could just tell their lost loved one how much they miss them.
The victims of a suicide are those left behind, not just the suicider. Often, family and friends will talk at the funeral of "If I had only known, I would have said something, I could have helped". And they most likely could have if they had known. They will then try to look for the signs that their loved one displayed in the days and months leading up to the event. Sometimes there are, sometimes there aren't.
On most occasions, the victims start piecing together individual signs of distress drawn from other people, and a picture begins to emerge.
When we do this, we are left feeling much worse. We may even start to self-blame, tell our self that we should have seen the signs, that we should have done more, that it is our fault for not helping. Don't do that to yourself, it's not your fault nor is it the fault of the suicider.
There are many signs that someone is unwell, the most common ones being an inability to sleep, excessive use of drugs and/or alcohol, expressing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, an unsuccessful attempt, the list goes on.
For me, the greatest indicator that someone is unwell and may be suicidal is that they won't look at you when you talk with them.
They always look at the floor with their head down. They will mumble, there won't be that usual spark in their voice. As a crisis negotiator, with suicide intervention as a specialty, this is the most common sign I have seen in every single case. And unfortunately, there have been lots of them.
If the person you are talking with is sullen, down, and won't look at you when you talk with them, they need help. As soon as possible. Don't leave them alone, take them to a doctor, psychologist, counsellor, anyone who can help. And stay with them.
Don't try to fix them, just be there with them.
The victims of a suicide are often left questioning "Why didn't they say something to me, why didn't they ask for help?" It is because they can't ask. They often don't know what is going on as their irrational thoughts become rational, they don't want to hurt you, they don't want to trouble you, they don't want to feel like a failure.
In my humble opinion, telling people who are struggling to reach out for help is not the solution to reducing successful suicides, the solution is for us to reach out to them. They are struggling and can't, won't, or don't know how to reach out because of the turmoil going on inside their head.
If those who were considering taking their own life were to think about the devastation that their death is going cause on their family, it probably wouldn't change things. That's a rational thought remember. In fact, they will tell you that they are more likely hurting those around them by being alive, that's how irrational their thoughts are.
The challenge for all of us today is to reach out to someone who we think might be struggling - "Are you okay?" Three simple words that could save a life. Three simple words that do no harm if we may have it wrong.