How do you help someone who is suicidal?

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Suicide is not an easy subject to talk about and many people who are having suicidal thoughts may try to hide it. So how do you know if someone close to you is at risk of taking their own life?

Some people are obviously more at risk than others. For example, people who are suffering from depression or any kind of mental illness, those who have been diagnosed with a severe health problem like cancer or HIV, those who are homeless, the elderly or disabled, the unemployed, those in prison, and those who have other family members who have been suicidal or those who have attempted suicide before. Men are also more at risk than women.

Although actual suicide is relatively rare, attempted suicide and suicidal thinking is believed to be quite common.

According to a number of studies, people who experience suicidal thoughts are struggling to find meaning in their lives, they may feel they have little or no control over what happens to them other than to make the decision to live or not to live.

According to the Mental Health Charity Mind, the warning signs you need to look out for include:

  • Feelings of failure, loss of self-esteem, isolation and hopelessness
  • Sleep problems, particularly waking up early
  • Feeling useless and worthless and that there is no point in life
  • Neglecting their physical appearance and personal hygiene
  • Not eating properly
  • Suddenly making out a will or taking out life insurance
  • Talking about suicide – Mind say it is a myth that people who talk about suicide don’t go through with it. In fact, most people who have taken their own lives have spoken about it to someone at some point
  • Any significant change in behaviour or mood

If you suspect that someone close to you is feeling suicidal then you need to encourage them to get help from a professional as soon as possible and the best place to start is their doctor.

Try to engage with the person and encourage them to talk about their feelings, and be there to listen to them, let them know they are cared for and loved.

It’s also a good idea to gather a list of phone numbers of people, organisations and help lines that you can contact in case of an emergency and keep it near the phone.

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