Is Your Friend Having Suicidal Thoughts?

How to spot the signs.
PHOTO: istockphoto

Suicide is a scary thing. It's an understatement to say it's a daunting feeling, worrying that someone you know and care about might be contemplating taking their own life. How do you approach it, and would you be able to make any difference?

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day and the message is being spread loud and clear: it's okay to talk. In the UK, suicide is most prevalent in 20 to 34-year-olds, so if you think someone you know might be having suicidal thoughts, there are ways you can help encourage them to open up. 

Cosmopolitan UK spoke to Bupa’s Clinical Director for Mental Health, Pablo Vandenabeele, who talked about the signs we should look out for in friends and family who could be having suicidal thoughts, and what we can do to help.

Signs to look out for:

1. Sudden changes in routine

"Often, when someone is severely depressed they will change their routine. They may become withdrawn and avoid social interaction by canceling plans and even deleting their social media accounts."

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2. Mood swings

"Changes in mood are natural but if these mood swings are happening more frequently or become more severe then this may suggest that someone is experiencing mental health difficulties."

3. Drinking, drugs, and self-harm

"When someone is feeling low they may turn to drinking or drugs. Although this can seem like a way to relax, these substances can lead to mood disturbances or lead to mental health difficulties such as psychosis. It is also the case that being under the influence of such substances can cause us to act more impulsively and lead us to do things we wouldn't normally do. While everyone is individual, I’ve treated people who have self-harmed under the influence of alcohol or drugs who wouldn’t do so sober," Vandenabeele said.

As well as putting a strain on your liver and heart, over time, an excessive drink can severely affect your mental health and worsen someone’s low mood. For someone with an existing mental health condition, substance abuse can make it more difficult to manage existing mental health conditions," he further explained.

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4. Anxiety

"We all feel guilty at times, but if a friend or family member is constantly worrying that they’ve said something wrong or are letting people down and it can overwhelm them then this may be a warning sign of a person developing an anxiety problem. Look out for someone who constantly seems to be preoccupied with worries, fears, and who appears agitated."

5. Questioning the value of their life

"Many of us will go through a life event that makes us despair; whether it’s heartbreak, bereavement, or a significant change in circumstances such as redundancy. However, if someone is openly expressing dissatisfaction with their life and its value, this could be a red flag. When you are worried about a friend or relative it's perfectly okay to ask them in a sensitive manner whether or not they are able to keep themselves safe."

6. Lack of self-care

"If you notice that someone no longer seems interested in self-care and has stopped showering, washing their hair or even wearing clean clothes, it's often a sign of severe depression. Although this isn’t a direct pointer to suicide, it may indicate the fact that they are suffering from a mood disorder for which they may need help. Equally, it is important to ensure that they are eating a balanced diet."

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7. Expressing a sense of hopelessness

"If someone you know expresses a desire to end their life, I would strongly encourage you to seek the advice and support of a medical professional. Although it's important not to try to handle the situation on your own, staying with your friend and providing companionship until an expert can intervene may help reduce their feeling of helplessness and maintain their safety."

How you can help

"The one piece of advice I always give anyone supporting someone with a mental health condition is just to be there to listen, without judgment," Vandenabeele said. "It may feel difficult to broach the subject, but even just simply asking 'Is everything ok?' is a good start."

As for when and where, the clinical director of mental health advised: "Don’t try to have the conversation in front of other people–this may cause them to feel uncomfortable and cause them to become even more withdrawn."

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You also needn't feel like you need to offer a solution to their problems. "Being able to listen and empathize is more helpful than trying to find a remedy," said Vandenabeele.

"Helping doesn’t need to be extravagant," he added. "You could take dinner to their house or suggest going for a walk. If you show in your own way that you’re there for them, in most cases they will start opening up to you."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, here are some important numbers and websites in the Philippines:

Crisis Line (for non-sectarian, non-judgmental telephone counseling):

Landline: (02) 893-7603

Globe Duo: 0917-8001123 / 0917-5067314

Sun Double Unlimited: 0922-8938944 / 0922-3468776

Center for Family Ministries (for spiritual counseling):

Landline: (02) 426-4289 to 92

Online resources for mental health and suicide prevention:

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Pablo Vandenabeele is Bupa’s Clinical Director for Mental Health. Bupa’s Direct Access service for Mental Health offers customers a direct route to mental health help, rather than having to go through their GP for a referral, which can save time. 


This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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