As the weather starts to warm up and the days become longer, I feel my darker mood of winter lifting. This is, however, one of the busiest times of year for me in terms of seeing clients. It is also the time of year when the suicide rate is at its highest. Some researchers hypothesize this is because people are engaging with each other more as the weather improves, while others argue that during the winter we expect to feel more alone and depressed, but when those feelings of hopelessness fail to pass with the changing of the seasons, people can start to feel desperate.
Sadly, the World Health Organization estimates that over 800,000 people in the world take their own life each year. When you also consider the devastating effects of suicide on the network of friends and loved ones, it means millions of people suffer, often needlessly.
The suicide rate tends to be highest among young people under 24 and older men, the latter statistic tending to be because men usually use more violent methods to attempt suicide.
If you are worried that someone you know may be suicidal, or you are finding it tough to carry on yourself, here are some signs to look for that might indicate you need to take action:
- The person starts mentioning death, hurting themselves or taking their own life, or they talk about how people would be better off without them.
- They are suffering from depression or prolonged periods of anxiety where sleep is disrupted.
- They display unusual changes in behavior or dramatic mood changes.
- They recently experienced a significant loss or bereavement.
- They are isolated or socially withdrawn.
- They appear to lose interest in self-care, hobbies, social activities or regular daily life.
- They talk about feeling out of control of their life or trapped by their circumstances, such as a marriage that isn’t working, financial worries that are piling up, or stress about forthcoming exams at school.
- They have started to seek out or prepare a means of ending their life, such as stockpiling medications or gaining access to firearms.
- They have started giving away personal possessions or don’t seem interested in longer term plans.
If you or someone you know is potentially considering suicide, there are ways to intervene to minimize the risk, and these include:
- Remove the methods of suicide, such as medications or guns.
- If you suspect someone is suicidal, don’t shut the conversation down or give them the impression you are not taking their thoughts seriously. Ask outright if they are thinking of hurting or killing themselves and what methods they are considering; or if it is you, tell someone you have been thinking about doing it and make sure they hear you. Far from putting ideas into a person’s head, it is commonly agreed that one of the best ways of preventing suicide is to give the person an opening to ask for help.
- If it is a child or teen, don’t be afraid to monitor their internet searches or social media activity.
- Make an informal written contract that commits them to reaching out for help first. The contract should include a five-point plan of things they must do before attempting suicide, and this should include calling agreed phone numbers of those who can be on hand to help.
- Help them to find something that keeps them hanging on when they feel at the point of crisis, be it a piece of music or writing, an item of sentimental value, a companion animal that they feel responsible for, or even just a commitment to get outside and walk or run until they can breathe through the pain.
- Make sure they have a list of people to call, including suicide support services, and if you are seriously concerned make sure they are not left alone.
Often when people think about suicide they call it taking their own life, but it is important to remember that those who are left behind also lose an enormous part of their lives as they struggle through the grief. As winter turns to spring, make sure you take care of your own mental health and look out for those around you who may be struggling.
In closing I thought I would share these lines written by Christopher Bergland (The Athlete’s Way, 2007):
“I’ve been there myself. If you are depressed or suicidal do whatever you have to do to stay vital and get yourself back on track. You were born to be alive. Don’t isolate. Reach out. Ask for help. There will be sunbeams in your soul again. Ride out the storm—but don’t do it alone. People will take care of you. Let them. And make a vow, when you’re back on top, to give something back.”
If you find feeling overwhelmed or out of control, counselling can help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you.
This article was also published on English Informer In France