Events in the recent past two weeks have continued to be very sad, and from the look of things, it appears that something has really gone wrong, in a big way. It looks like much as we want to move away from the topic of unnecessary tragedy, we are not able to do so, at least not fast enough, because this ugly demon keeps raising its head more and more. We can look away and continue life as if everything is normal, but my conscience won’t let me, so I am here again, writing about the unpleasant topic of Suicide – after several young men committed suicide in Kenya.
As we continue to deal with the tragedies happening around us, I must thank all those who have supported the effort to keep reminding one another, that all is not well, as long as people keep taking their lives, and others keep causing premature deaths for no apparent reason. Silence at this time is deadly, and getting used to this status quo would be to dampen the human spirit of staying alive.
I look forward to writing something less gloomy, in the near future, but I have realized that in life, once we set sail, all we have to do is wait for the direction of the wind to steer us in the right direction. In the meantime, I write because a few people asked me these 2 questions: “What are the actual signs that someone is about to commit suicide?” and “How can we help someone who is suicidal or prevent them from committing suicide?” I am not a health professional, but I am inclined towards easing pain and supporting people in my own small way, even if it means doing so by just putting some useful information together, so, I do not take credit for all the information here. I conducted my research and put together this information from various sources.
The topic of suicide occupies a very sensitive place in my heart after this demon prematurely snatched away my very promising young nephew; an attempted suicide by a very close relative and a narration by Rehema, my old time friend, of her near suicide experience. To win over this demon, we need to give it a face and make it more real, and I sincerely wish more people could come out and share their experiences, so that we can all understand that these are not cases in isolation.
I met Rehema in college, and then we lost touch as soon as we graduated. We met again after 3 years, after she had just got her second baby, who at the time was only 3 months. Her other child was 11/2 years. She looked untidy and had almost passed me by because her mind was totally preoccupied. She was a beautiful, intelligent 24 year old who graduated tops in our class. There on the streets of Nairobi, she poured out her heart as she narrated how the deadbeat dad of her two babies had kicked them out, changed the locks in their house, and took with him everything she had bought, before she met him. This had so devastated her that she didn’t know what to do. She worked in a prestigious bank whose offices were on the 27th floor in a high rise building in the city center. I listened in shock as she told me how she had contemplated jumping down from her office’s window, to end her misery. She was still grieving her mom who had just recently passed away, and so she had no one to confide in. The only thing that stopped her from jumping from that 27th floor window was the thought that her two girls would grow up to the horrific stories of how their mom committed suicide. She knew, she said, that the stories would be spiced up with some good sauce of spite, so that made her think twice. She was terrified of her office because that window brought those evil thoughts. No one knew what was eating her up, because she could not trust her colleagues who, she said, thought her to be just a grumpy young mother. She was transferred to another branch and eventually overcame her miseries, but her case made me realize how hard it is to know when one is suicidal. Apart from being preoccupied, I couldn’t have otherwise told that suicide had made a call on her. Luckily, she had refused to answer that call.
Signs that someone may be thinking of committing suicide may include: Talking about suicide; Fascination and preoccupation with death; Talking or writing about dying/death or self-harm, such as: “I wish I hadn’t been born”, “If I see you again….” or “I’d better off be dead”. Trying to or obtaining objects used for suicide – most victims will have acquired the object to accomplish the suicide at least 2 weeks before it happens. Self-hatred, helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt, shame, feelings of being trapped and being a burden to others. Engaging in risky behavior such as drug use, alcoholism, reckless driving, or unsafe sex. Self-mutilation, moodiness, continuous headaches, isolation and the desire to be left alone. Giving away prized possessions; making wills and arrangements for family members and/or getting affairs in order; Unusual or unexpected calls or visits to friends and family; Saying final goodbyes to friends and loved ones as if they’ll never see them again; Sudden calm and happiness after much gloom/depression – the happiness is a sign of relief because they have finally made up their mind that their misery will end, by committing suicide. All these are red flags but this list is not exhaustive, so it is good to be alert for any unusual signs, and listen to our intuition. When things are about to go wrong, most people will confess to having felt something wasn’t right. Intuition is God talking to us. Heed that voice.
Take all signs of suicidal behavior seriously
CDC statistics indicate that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US; that there is one death by suicide in the US every 12 minutes; that for every 25 estimated suicides, one suicide actually takes place. This is extremely alarming, to say the very least.
If someone says they are thinking of suicide, believe them. If they behave in a way that makes you think they may be suicidal, don’t play it down or ignore it. Many people who kill themselves have expressed the intention at some point, but unfortunately most of the time they are not taken seriously. You may worry that you’re overreacting, but the safety of your friend or loved one is most important. Don’t worry about straining your relationship when someone’s life is at stake.
You’re not responsible for preventing someone from taking their life — but your intervention may help them see that other options are available to stay safe and get treatment.
The police will hold someone in safe custody. The key is to keep people alive and to restore hope. Call a friend or relative of the person, if you find it hard to handle the situation alone. Please don’t watch in silence, reach out, share information and help others.
Start by asking questions
While at first it may feel awkward, and the would-be victim may not be comfortable, asking questions on suicidal thoughts or feelings may offer an opportunity to talk about bottled up feelings and may reduce the risk of committing the act. Be sensitive, but ask direct questions, such as: How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life? What is causing you to feel so bad? What would make you feel better? How can I help? Do you ever feel like just giving up? Are you thinking about dying? Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Are you thinking about suicide? Have you ever thought about suicide before, or tried to harm yourself before? Have you thought about how or when you’d do it? Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?
Asking questions disarms the person of the notion that no one cares, while offering them a chance to talk on a topic they thought was their secret may help them reflect inwards and see that the problem is not as bad as they thought. Talking about it openly and uncovering the secret decreases the possibility of committing the act, because no one commits suicide in the open. They always do it in secrecy.
Listen attentively; be supportive and understanding without placing blame and avoid interrupting. Be respectful and acknowledge the person’s feelings, without expressing shock, dismissing them or trying to talk them out of their feelings. Bottled up feelings due to shame, guilt or embarrassment can shut down communication, and you’d want them to build their trust in you so that you assist them seek treatment, because they might not have the energy or motivation to do so. Suggest and/or assist them research treatment options, make phone calls, consult a doctor, accompany them to an appointment, or get help from a support group, crisis center, faith community, teacher or other trusted person.
Try not to be patronizing or judgmental. Avoid saying: “Things could be worse” or “You have everything to live for”.
Never promise to keep someone’s suicidal feelings a secret, because if the person’s life is in danger, you’ll need to get help meaning you might not be able to keep that promise, and that would erode their trust in you. Explain to them in an understanding manner that it might not be possible to keep it a secret.
Offer them assurance that things can get better, and that with appropriate treatment and support, they can develop ways to cope with their problems. Encourage them to avoid alcohol and drugs, and if possible, offer to direct them to support groups or crisis centers where they can be helped.
If possible, ensure they do not have items that could be used for suicide, and remove potentially dangerous items from the person’s home or their reach.
While most people believe that suicide is a coward’s way out of misery, I beg to differ. It takes a strong person who has reached a dead end and sees no way out, to commit suicide. That is why they write notes. A coward will do no such thing. Only a strong person would dare cause pain to themselves and their loved ones, but do it anyway because they believe they have no other option. Victims of suicide are crying out for help and the worst thing we can do is to dare them to ‘suck it up and deal with their emotions like a man or real woman”.
Have you ever thought of committing suicide? Do you know anyone who has ever thought of doing so? Why not share your story or theirs? It could make the difference between life and death for someone. Share to make us know we are not alone. Share to end the stigma on Mental Health.
Let’s look out for one another, extend a helping hand, walk an extra mile, speak an encouraging word, give a comforting hug, be a compassionate heart, render a listening ear, feed a hungry belly, offer a shoulder to cry on or even shed a sympathizing tear. Taking care of one another is taking care of the universe, because we are all one.
It is still a beautiful world, stive to be happy!
If you believe someone is contemplating suicide: Encourage them to call or offer to help them call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), to reach a trained counselor. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to everyone in the USA and is toll free. If you believe someone is at risk of losing their life, please call 911.
For those in Kenya, call: 254-722-178177. There is also a support group known as Befrienders Kenya.
SENIOR COLUMNIST AND GREAT SUPPORTER
KENYAN PARENTS IN USA