For those who are left behind after a suicide, the devastating emotions range from heartache to confusion to guilt. And questions. So many questions. What could I have done differently? Did I miss the signs? Could I have prevented it?
The holiday season and darkness of winter can be particularly difficult for those who are isolated and lonely. Some may have a small social circle or lack opportunities for socialization. People who have feelings of disconnectedness often avoid social interactions, especially during the holidays. Unfortunately withdrawing often makes the feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression worse.
Understanding the issues concerning mental health is an important way to take part in prevention and help those in crisis. There are risk factors that increase the likelihood of someone taking their life: mental disorders, particularly schizophrenia and anxiety; alcohol and other substance use; hopelessness; impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies; history of trauma or abuse; major physical illnesses; previous attempts; family history of suicide; loss of a job or relationship; easy access to lethal means; local clusters of suicide; lack of social support and sense of isolation; stigma associated with asking for help; lack of health care; and exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and internet).
Some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased or seems related to a painful event, loss or change. These include: talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves; looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun; talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live, feeling trapped or in unbearable pain or being a burden to others; increasing the use of alcohol or drugs; acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly; sleeping too little or too much; withdrawing or isolating themselves; showing rage or talking about seeking revenge and extreme mood swings.
According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, we can all help prevent suicide. Evidence shows that providing support services, talking about suicide, reducing access to means of self-harm and following up with loved ones are just some of the actions we can all take to help others.
The organization’s nation-wide lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress and prevention and crisis resources for you and best practices for professionals. Calls to 1-800-273-8255(TALK) are answered by counselors at the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline network. The closest center to us is in Everett.
If you research suicide prevention you will find stories from attempted suicide survivors who say things like, “I was able to come through it and carve out a life that I love;” “I nearly missed out on a lot of my children’s’ lives;” and “There’s somebody and something in this world that is better because you’re around.”
Those are powerful words from people who were in the deepest pit of despair, and were carried through the darkness by a support system. We can be that for each other.