Straight talk on suicide prevention: Part 1

Suicide cases are getting reported by the dozen, how can one prevent it… mDhil speaks to psychiatrist Dr Abha Bang. 

suicide 2

mDhil: At some point, most of us, have contemplated ending our lives. Does that mean we’re harbouring thoughts of suicide?

Dr Bang: Yes, to a large extent. There’s however a difference between death wishes (active or passive), suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideations. Such ideas, if short lived, rare or transient, need to be distinguished from depression. Thoughts of ending one’s life can be an indicator of the degree of hopelessness and worthlessness that a person is going through in his/ her life. That for sure also means a person is probably suffering from major depression. If suicidal thoughts are seen imposed by the outside world, occur as a part of fear, or the person is reacting to command auditory hallucinations, it can be a marker of psychosis.

mDhil: How can one recognise suicidal tendencies in oneself?

Dr Bang: Getting recurrent thoughts of actively ending one’s own life for the sake of escaping a situation, or allaying unnecessary anxiety or an anticipated fear of something can be an indicator that one has a tendency to commit suicide. Making active plans and procuring means for the same is also a signal that one needs to seek help. Past history of suicidal attempt is by itself a strong marker for tendency towards suicide in any person.

mDhil: What can be indications of suicidal tendencies in others?

Dr Bang: In the case of others, there are certain signs you can look out for. These may include depression, having recent stressors, persistent stressors in the environment, poor social/ family support, terminal illnesses, unmarried/ divorced, living alone, having attempted on their lives in the past, poor coping skills as evidenced by peers or family members in the past etc.

Recognising suicidal gestures of patients who are reluctant to receive or ask help is of paramount importance. Suicidal gestures are subtle changes in behaviour, which may indicate that a person is having recurrent thoughts of dying and is planning to end his/ her own life. For example: Expressing worthlessness in life, completing unfinished business, making/ changing a will, calling all family members to a gathering, sending all family members out, so as to be able to stay alone to execute suicidal plans and so on.

mDhil: What should one do in case he/she suspects that someone they know might be contemplating suicide?

Dr Bang: The first thing to do is – ASK the person directly, be patient while doing so. Take the person into confidence and without hesitation, ask him or her whether the person is having suicidal thoughts. Whether he/she has been making plans to end his/her life? How frequent are those thoughts? How is the person dealing with those thoughts?

Asking a patient whether he/she is contemplating death never by itself plants the seed of suicide, as is thought otherwise.

Next, assess the risk of suicide. Try to find out the level of risk of suicide the person is exposed to. Many a times this may require the help of a therapist or a psychiatrist, in case treatment or hospitalisation is required. A suicidal person is a threat to himself/herself and hence should be treated as an emergency.

Coming up next: Dr Bang spells out the reasons behind a surge in suicide rates in part 2 of straight talk on suicide prevention

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  • Amit

    Thank you Dr.Abha….was a wonderful explaination…these things need to be considered seriously so that we can reach out to those who need help…

  • Nakul

    Thanks a lot Dr. Bang.

  • Aakash Kokz

    Good to see you encouraging the weak ones who chose the option of giving up on life. Nice post.