How would I know if someone I care about was contemplating suicide?

Suicide is very much in the news these days. A forensic expert who conducted an autopsy on Trina Etrong, wife of Ted Failon said that the contact wound on her temple indicates suicide. (Edit on April 22– A second autopsy points to suicide)

I ‘d like to point out that the Compassionate Friends refer to the death as ““died by suicide” or ““died of suicide” to replace the commonly used ““committed suicide” or ““completed suicide.” The phrases “Died of suicide” or “died by suicide” are accurate, emotionally- neutral ways to explain the death.

Suicide, no doubt, is the most misunderstood of all deaths and leaves behind a residue of questions, guilt, anger, second-guessing, and anxiety which, at least initially, is almost impossible to digest. Even though we know better, we’re still haunted by the feeling that suicide is the ultimate act of despair, a deed that somehow puts one outside the family of humanity, the mercy of God, and (in the past) the church’s burial grounds.

Let’s not be judgmental on people who died by suicide.

When someone close to us commits suicide we feel both pain and shame. That’s why suicides are often not reported publicly. An obituary is more likely to say that this person “died suddenly”, without specifying the cause of death.

What needs to be said about suicide? A number of things need to be re-iterated over and over again:

First, that suicide, at least in most cases, is a sickness, a disease, a terminal illness that takes a person out of life, as does any terminal illness, against his or her will. In essence, suicide is death through emotional cancer, emotional heart attack, emotional stroke.

That’s why it’s apt to say that someone is “a victim of suicide”. Suicide is a desperate, if misguided, attempt to end unendurable pain at any cost, akin to throwing oneself through a window and falling to one’s death because one’s clothing is on fire.

Suicide is an illness, not a sin.

I am sure one of your questions would be How would I know if someone I care about was contemplating suicide?

Often suicidal people will give warning signs, consciously or unconsciously, indicating that they need help and often in the hope that they will be rescued.These usually occur in clusters, so often several warning signs will be apparent. The presence of one or more of these warning signs is not intended as a guarantee that the person is suicidal: the only way to know for sure is to ask them. In other cases, a suicidal person may not want to be rescued,and may avoid giving warning signs.

Typical warning signs which are often exhibited by people who are feeling suicidal include:

    – Withdrawing from friends and family.
    – Depression, broadly speaking; not necessarily a diagnosable mental illness
    such as clinical depression, but indicated by signs such as:
    – Loss of interest in usual activities.
    – Showing signs of sadness, hopelessness, irritability.
    – Changes in appetite, weight, behavior, level of activity or
    sleep patterns.
    – Loss of energy.
    – Making negative comments about self.
    – Recurring suicidal thoughts or fantasies.
    – Sudden change from extreme depression to being `at peace’ (may
    indicate that they have decided to attempt suicide).
    – Talking, Writing or Hinting about suicide.
    – Previous attempts.
    – Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
    – Purposefully putting personal affairs in order:
    – Giving away possessions.
    – Sudden intense interest in personal wills or life insurance.
    – `Clearing the air’ over personal incidents from the past.

This list is not definitive: some people may show no signs yet still feel suicidal, others may show many signs yet be coping OK; the only way to know for sure is to ask. In conjunction with the risk factors listed above, this list is intended to help people identify others who may be in need of support.

If a person is highly perturbed, has formed a potentially lethal plan to kill themselves and has the means to carry it out immediately available, they would be considered likely to attempt suicide.

Read more at my Suicide Prevention page.

(Source : The Struggle to Understand Suicide)

Philippine Suicide Prevention Hotline

Office Address: 2/F, 48 McKinley Road, North Forbes Park, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Office Phones: +63 2 8931893 /8106233
Fax: +63 2 8931892
E-mail: [email protected]
Crisis Line: +63 2 8937603 /+63 2 8937606 (24/7)
Mobile Text messaging: type hello crisisline and send to 2333 (Globe) or 211 (Smart)

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  • Meg

    Ever since i thought suicide was a sin

    • Those were the days when suicide wasn’t linked to any illness. When I said suicide is not a sin, I refer to suicide due to depression.

  • in this society of ours, suicide is largely considered a sin. good thing there are people like you educating people on “the real deal” about suicide. you said we should ask if we see signs, but normally, do these people (afflicted with emotional cancer) really share about their suicide plans with their families? don’t they keep it a secret so no one would notice?

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    • In all the talks shared to me by suicide survivors (families of suicide victims), that on hindsight, there were signs but they didn’t know it was serious.

  • Bruce in Iloilo

    Hmm. I think that the phrase “Suicide is an illness, not a sin” is simplistic from a theological perspective, but is accurate from a psychological perspective. The way I think to phrase it is “There is no such thing as a rational suicide.”

    This gets to the point above — that suicide is a symptom of a psychological illness — without (a) bashing unnecessarily anyone’s religious beliefs or without (b) weakening society’s stance against suicide, which might be the only thing keeping someone from suicide. While the decision to commit suicide may not be rational, the decision NOT to commit suicide can be. We need to appeal to people’s rational side and we do that in part through the message that suicide is wrong, always. That it is a sin to (rationally) choose suicide.

    • Mai

      I have been suffering from depression for quite a while now. I wanted so much to ask for medical help and for the necessary treatment but I cannot afford it. I have been struggling for so long, thinking of so many ways to convince myself not to commit suicide. But it’s so difficult, especially if you’re the one suffering from depression. I know that suicide is very wrong, and in-fact I sure agree that it’s a coward’s way-out. But when in your that state when you think that there is no hope anymore, you always want to escape and to put an end to all of these. I just wish that I can shut-it off like normal people do, to bounce back easily. But it’s so damn difficult.

  • Paul

    On one hand you quote compassionate friends of non-judgmental language of loosing love ones due to suicide, but you turn around and CONVICT the bereaved that their love one committed such a crime that they feel shame. It is such language, by bystanders that load the bereaved with shame. I’ve quoted your passage below that I reference.

    I speak from experience, having lost a brother, who died, and who’s death is classified as suicide. Murders commit homicide. Suicide deaths are deaths of individuals who die from unsurmountable pain.
    The individuals death is rational from his/her point of view given it ends his/her suffering. If one is subjected to enough torture, anyone will eventually end their life. Look at Victor Frankl author of the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and Holocaust survivor. Emotions know no time. They are cumulative and if one doesn’t find the right match to “float his/her boat” he or she sinks. V. Frankl died by suicide. This is truly onside the box thinking, but that’s the only way to understand suicide.

    Mathematically and physically it’s the summation of all the forces (emotional and otherwise) that are accounted for and equated to equilibrium. “For every action their is and equal and opposite reaction.” Sir Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Motion. This is why an individual who make attempts of dieing by suicide are ever more likely to die by suicide, especially if he isn’t aren’t able to de-construct why his life sucks. It’s much like the heart-attack patient who doesn’t stop smoking and eating cholesterol rich food. The cake is baked and the ingredients are solidified. Alcoholism, a depressant, has a strong correlation with suicide.
    quoted from your blog …When someone close to us commits suicide we feel both pain and shame.” from … Read more:

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    • to expound more

      ‘Committed suicide,’ with its implications of criminality, is a carryover from the Middle Ages, when civil authorities, finding the victim beyond their reach, punished the survivors by confiscating their property,” says Diana Cunningham, executive director of The Compassionate Friends. “Victims were forbidden traditional funerals and burials, and suicide was considered both illegal and sinful by the laws and religions of the time. ‘Completed suicide’ implies earlier suicide attempts when there may have been none.

      “Both expressions perpetuate a stigma that is neither accurate nor relevant to today’s society,” says Cunningham. “We now know that many suicides are the result of brain disorders or biochemical illnesses such as clinical depression. But the stigma associated with suicide often forces family members to choose between secrecy about the death and social isolation. Their hesitancy to seek the support of the community increases their pain and makes their healing more difficult. Families who have had a child die by suicide are helped in their grief by the use of non-judgmental language.

  • it does sound contradictory. see, this is not just based on one observation. It has been written by many suicide survivors all over the world. I have talked also to these families. Even if I tell them it is not their fault, they still feel shame…why ? because it has been that way many years ago. If you look back at the old days, families of suicide victim were very much shunned by society.