Suicide is a global phenomenon and according to the World Health Organization, it was the 17th leading cause of death in 2019. This clearly makes it a serious problem and more tragic because suicide is preventable. Losing a loved one to suicide is perhaps the worst form of loss. Often, the feeling of guilt, helplessness and anger lingers on for long. However, this can be averted if you become more aware about how suicidal thoughts and ideas manifest and the role of timely help and support that needs to be given to those in distress. One rule of thumb is to never dismiss someone who talks about suicide or dying. Do not think of it as attention seeking behaviour but remember, it is a cry for help by someone who doesn't know how to help him/herself.
Some key warning signs to look out for suicidal ideation, intent and planning would be -
1. The person expressing feelings of hopelessness about present and the future. This is a strong predictor of suicidal ideation and self-destructive behaviour. Often, this is accompanied with associated feelings of helplessness, worthlessness and despair.
2. Threats to kill self, having thoughts of self-harm (suicidal ideation).
3. Expressing a death wish or a desire to end his / her life (suicidal intent).
4. Looking for ways to doing it such as seeking access to pills, weapons, rope, poison, drugs etc.
5. Feeling trapped: The person may feel that there is no way out from his/her life and the difficult circumstances. Death is viewed as the only way out which will put an end to all their problems.
6. Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide. Often, people would write notes or express the death wish through poetry or songs.
7. Saying Good bye, writing farewell letters to their loved ones and giving away their prized possessions to people.
8. Change in personality: Exhibiting rage, anger, impulsive behaviour, heightened anxiety and/or depression.
If you can identify any of these signs, talk to the person about it. Talking in a non-judgmental, empathetic manner allows for the person to open up. It is a myth that talking about suicide could implant ideas of it in someone's mind. Those who are seeking help are desperate, and to have someone who is willing to respond to their emotional pain with understanding. This always serves as a big support. Reach out - it is the only way you can save someone's life.
(Dr. Sanjay Chugh is a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist based in New Delhi)
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