On Saturday morning, we got the gut-wrenching news out that our friend’s son, who was in his mid-20s had committed suicide. What is left behind is the crushing grief from losing someone who had, as they say, “his whole life in front of him.”
The echoes of “Why?” by family and friends will likely go on unanswered. Still, people connected to him will search out those and other answers. Wondering: How could a person feel like that was the only option? How would they keep his memory alive for the young child he left behind? How and when and if would they ever tell the child the truth about his father’s death? Were there signs they missed?
While there is no clear answer to this complex problem, those left behind sometimes seek out the answers for years: When I was 16, I was asked by my uncle’s new wife, why anyone my age would even consider thinking about killing themselves and what would drive them to that decision? What I found out after the shocking questions (I was not suicidal) was that her daughter from a previous marriage had committed suicide some 15 years prior to her wanting to know about my own teen psyche.
My father also lost his first wife from suicide. Unlike our friend’s son, she actually had been displaying many of the warning signs that something significant might happen after she had seen a man accidentally shoot himself in front of her. However, this was in the early 1970s, when suicide was still widely a shushed topic, and nobody was encouraging her to seek help outside of the medical professionals who had overlooked the risk factors, and were treating her for sleeplessness.
There are myriad reasons that people will consider taking their life or actually go through with it. As mentioned, sometimes it will never be known. As with the case of our friend’s son, not everyone will indicate outwardly that there is anything concerning going on with their mental or emotional wellbeing. If someone does display warning signs for suicide, it’s critical that family or friends who notice get help for them.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, behaviors to watch for are many, but can include some of the following: talking about wanting to die or kill themselves; talking about feeling empty, hopeless or having no reason to live; talking about great guilt or shame; acting anxious, agitated or withdrawn; changing eating and sleeping habits or giving away important possessions.
“If these warning signs apply to you or someone you know, get help as soon as possible, particularly if the behavior is new or has increased recently,” reads information posted on NIMH website.
In 2018, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 48,000 people dying in that manner that year.
As friends and family are often the first to notice warning signs, people are urged to take action if they believe someone is suicidal.
NIMH recommends the following five steps:
1. Ask: Are you thinking about killing yourself?
2. Keep them safe by removing lethal items.
3. Be there: Listen and learn what they are thinking and feeling.
4. Help them connect: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-8255 and they can be texted at 741741. Save this in your phone so it’s there if you need it.
5. Stay connected.
For any of those who have lost a friend or family member to suicide, there are a host of grief support services, such as Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, or SAVE.
On save.org, survivors can find support groups, order a grief packet, start a memorial and, even, share stories of hope and coping.
If you know someone who has lost someone they loved to suicide, starting a conversation can seem impossible. As some friends said after finding out this weekend, “I want to call them, but I don’t know what to say.”
Save.org has advice for that, too: Tell them you’re sorry for their loss.
Be there to listen IF they are ready to talk. And most importantly, help reduce the stigma attached to suicide by offering the same compassion and support as if that person had died any other way.