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Hanging on for Dear Life

"When your suicidal loved one wants to let go, How do you make him hold on?"
By: Stef dela Cruz, MDHanging on for Dear Life

Yes, there are red flags that can alert anyone to the possibility of suicide. No, a person should not assume one is not suicidal if these red flags don't exist.

A man thinking of taking his own life does not have to “look suicidal”. He may even seem himself for the first time after days of being depressed, giving the impression that he has successfully pulled out of his emotional slump.

If someone dear to you is depressed, take note of these warning signs, shared in a 2016 article by Dr. Stephen Soreff, president of Education Initiatives in Nottingham, New Hampshire. You just might save a life.

Warning sign #1: When a depressed person suddenly has the strength to put his affairs in order

Taking this as a sign that someone with depression is starting to feel better can be a deadly mistake.Someone contemplating suicide may want to make sure everything is okay after he's gone. He will tie all loose ends in hopes that his passing does not become a burden to the family he will leave behind.

Warning sign #2: When someone with a history of depression starts writing an advance directive

Not many people voluntarily want to make a last will… unless they know they're dying.

If someone suffering from depression suddenly asks his attorney to come pay a visit, take a moment to find out what it’s about.

Warning sign #3: When a grieving person buys a deadly weapon or a sturdy rope

Purchasing a gun may be a telltale sign, but buying a rope or a gardening hose can look innocent enough. If someone threatens to take his life, he should be taken seriously, especially if he has the tools necessary to fulfill his promise.

Warning sign #4: When someone depressed decides to pay a visit to his friends

Depression drains. Someone under its clutches may have a hard time grooming himself, let alone head out for a tête-à-tête with friends and family. If a depressed person has a list of people he suddenly wants to visit after days of living in emotional and physical isolation, consider it a possibility that he wants to say goodbye.

Who are thought to be at risk?

Even before you can spot any of the red flags above, you may notice a few traits that puts someone you love at risk for suicide. These characteristics should prompt you to seek help.

At-risk individuals may:

  • Not have previous psychiatric history. Forty percent of people who committed suicide were seen by a doctor but remained undiagnosed of any mental condition, reported a 2016 cohort analysis by Gerard Leavey and team published in BMC Psychiatry.
  • Have verbalized or implied that they would rather be alone. They prefer to withdraw from others, even those they deeply care about.
  • Seem rather out of it. They often look distracted and are in no mood to laugh at jokes.
  • Have spoken about death and dying several times. They may have wondered out loud what happens during death and beyond.
  • Have only a small circle of loved ones. They draw support from very few friends, if at all.
  • Say that they are simply a burden to the people they love. They think so little of themselves that they think of their lives as a waste.
  • Have shown none of the above traits. Surprised? Yes, please be. Stereotyping suicide, although helpful, can be limiting and rather lethal.

How is suicide prevented?

Preventing suicide is anchored on recognizing the risk – stereotypes about who may or may not commit suicide should be acknowledged and eliminated. About one out of three patients who said they would not commit suicide eventually did, according to a 2016 study by Gregory Simon and team published in Psychiatric Services.Once the risk for self-harm is recognized, a psychiatrist can recommend a suicide prevention program or treatment plan.

Different interventions can help prevent suicide, including medical treatment and psychiatric therapy. Other aspects that ensure success include the following:

  • Involvement of the family
  • Continuity of care
  • Day-to-day messages of hope and affirmation
  • Elimination of behaviors that reveal a failure to comprehend suicide and depression

To this day, many believe that suicide attempts and depression are due to a lack of faith, or that depression can be “cured” by sheer will. These attitudes are counterproductive and ill-informed. For as long as there are those who still believe that depression and suicide are signs of emotional or mental weakness, people with depression will avoid getting diagnosed knowing that a stigma awaits, adding insult to injury.

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