How to Recognize a Cry for Help
Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC
Too often lately we hear about a suicide in Hollywood or in our own communities. It has become an epidemic. I do not claim to be an expert on this topic, but I’d like to share some resources so we can all become more aware, and possibly prevent this type of tragedy from happening within our families, workplaces, schools, or circles of friends.
Speaking from my own experience, I can tell you that it may not be easy to tell if someone is at risk of committing suicide. I have not spoken about this with anyone other than my family and closest friends, but it was not until much later after the fact. When I was going through a year-long divorce proceeding from my 17-year marriage in 2013, I contemplated suicide. It was the absolute lowest point in my life. During that time, I had many thoughts that were very irrational due to extreme stress, unspeakable betrayal, overwhelming loss and disconnection, shattered self-esteem, and fear of the unknown. I told no one about my suicidal thoughts, and no one suspected it. I am an extremely strong person, so everyone assumed that I would be fine and could handle it. I also never let on to anyone, not even my therapist, about how depressed I really was. If I can come close to that point, then anyone can.
I can honestly say that what prevented me from taking my own life were my dogs. I couldn’t leave them behind without someone who would care for them and love them the way I did. I just could not selfishly do that to them. From what I know, having something beyond ourselves is what keeps us going whether that be kids or dogs, a significant other, a calling to help others, or a higher purpose yet to be fulfilled. I know that this is true for me and what kept me going during the darkest time of my life. If you are experiencing a devastating circumstance in your life, please know that the intensity of the pain you are feeling now will lessen over time.
The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky says that only 10% of our overall happiness comes from our life circumstances such as our income, health, type of job, marital status, etc. Our genetically determined happiness set point makes up about 50% of our overall happiness, and cannot be changed. Some people have higher or lower set points than others. People who have lower than average happiness set points may suffer from chronic depression. If you are experiencing temporary or chronic depression, please seek the help of a medical professional and/or therapist, as depression is very treatable.
The good news is that we can control 40% of our overall happiness level through intentional activity – behaviors of our choosing. This is what helped me through the worst time in my life. I made a conscious effort to engage in activities that would elevate my mood, including listening to Dr. Robert Anthony’s audio programs Mastering Your Inner Game and The Secret of Deliberate Creation on a daily basis. I truly believe his programs saved my life. By listening to them daily, I renewed my hope, regained my faith, strengthened my spirit, and changed my entire perspective on life. (The How of Happiness gives many more examples of intentional activities that increase happiness levels.) I also spent as much time as I could around other people because I knew that isolation would only contribute to my loneliness and depression.
According to WedMD, these are the warning signs of someone who is at risk of committing suicide:
- Excessive sadness or moodiness: Long-lasting sadness, mood swings, and unexpected rage.
- Hopelessness: Feeling a deep sense of hopelessness about the future, with little expectation that circumstances can improve.
- Sleep problems.
- Sudden calmness: Suddenly becoming calm after a period of depression or moodiness can be a sign that the person has made a decision to end his or her life.
- Withdrawal: Choosing to be alone and avoiding friends or social activities also are possible symptoms of depression, a leading cause of suicide. This includes the loss of interest or pleasure in activities the person previously enjoyed.
- Changes in personality and/or appearance: A person who is considering suicide might exhibit a change in attitude or behavior, such as speaking or moving with unusual speed or slowness. In addition, the person might suddenly become less concerned about his or her personal appearance.
- Dangerous or self-harmful behavior: Potentially dangerous behavior, such as reckless driving, engaging in unsafe sex, and increased use of drugs and/or alcohol might indicate that the person no longer values his or her life.
- Recent trauma or life crisis: A major life crises might trigger a suicide attempt. Crises include the death of a loved one or pet, divorce or break-up of a relationship, diagnosis of a major illness, loss of a job, or serious financial problems.
- Making preparations: Often, a person considering suicide will begin to put his or her personal business in order. This might include visiting friends and family members, giving away personal possessions, making a will, and cleaning up his or her room or home. Some people will write a note before committing suicide. Some will buy a firearm or other means like poison.
- Threatening suicide: From 50% to 75% of those considering suicide will give someone — a friend or relative — a warning sign. However, not everyone who is considering suicide will say so, and not everyone who threatens suicide will follow through with it. Every threat of suicide should be taken seriously.
According to WebMD, “Suicide rates are highest in teens, young adults, and the elderly. White men over the age of 65 have the highest rate of suicide. Although women are three times as likely to attempt suicide, men are far more likely to complete the act.”
Suicide risk is also higher in these groups:
- Older people who have lost a spouse through death or divorce
- People who have attempted suicide in the past
- People with a family history of suicide
- People with a friend or co-worker who committed suicide
- People with a history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- People who are unmarried, unskilled, or unemployed
- People with long-term pain or a disabling or terminal illness
- People who are prone to violent or impulsive behavior
- People who have recently been released from a psychiatric hospitalization (This often is a very frightening period of transition.)
- People in certain professions, such as police officers and health care providers who work with terminally ill patients
- People with substance abuse problems
I would also add to this list, members of the Armed Forces who served in combat or have comrades who died in combat.
According to WedMD, this is what to do if you think someone is suicidal:
- Don’t be afraid to ask if he or she is depressed or thinking about suicide.
- Ask if he or she is seeing a therapist or taking medication.
- Rather than trying to talk the person out of suicide, let him or her know that depression is temporary and treatable.
- In some cases, the person just needs to know that someone cares and is looking for the chance to talk about his or her feelings. You can then encourage the person to seek professional help.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255
- Crisis Text Line: Text CONNECT to 741741
I hope this newsletter helps someone who is considering suicide and saves even just one life. Please know that there is always someone you can reach out to, whether it’s a friend, relative, teacher, minister, therapist, coach, medical professional, or a crisis hotline. Please share this newsletter with anyone that you think it may help.
Since 2013, I have deliberately created the life I have always wanted, instead of just letting life happen to me. This includes owning my own business where I get to do the work I love and make a positive impact on other people every day, and finding the perfect partner to share the rest of my life with. If I had ended my life in 2013, I would not be living the amazing life I have now, nor would I be the person that I have become and am proud to be today. Out of the pain and hardship of our struggles, comes the beauty of strength, growth, and transformation. There is always light after the darkness, and sometimes it’s even brighter than we could have ever imagined.
“No matter how dark the moment, love and hope are always possible.” – George Chakiris
“Be strong because things will get better. It may be stormy now, but it can’t rain forever.” – Unknown
“Heroism is the triumph of spirit over circumstance.” – Neil A. Stroul, Ph.D.
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