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This article was first published 5 years ago  » Getahead » Preventing suicide: How to help a loved one

Preventing suicide: How to help a loved one

By Juhi Parmar
January 23, 2019 10:44 IST
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Suicide is not a crime, or a weakness.
It is a sign that someone you know is feeling overwhelmed. That they are struggling, and losing hope in their ability to cope, losing the will to live.
Observe, ask them directly, support them through it, and get professional help says psychologist Juhi Parmar.

how to prevent suicide

Photograph: Kind courtesy

Remember playing 'connect the dots' when we were little?

Well, connect these statistics released by the WHO in 2016, and see if you get an alarm bell.

  1. Worldwide, every 3 seconds a person attempts suicide and every 40 seconds someone succeeds
  2. Annually, approximately 8,00,000 individuals take their lives, of which 1,30,000 are Indians
  3. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 16 to 29 year olds
  4. By 2020, the average age in India will be 29 making it the world's youngest country (High commissioner of India, Taranjith Singh Sandhu, March 2017)

While India is all set to become the youngest country in the world next year, what are we doing to ensure that the youth that we are banking on to propel us to great heights, don't crumble under the weight of the pressure?

What answer do we have when we find that the largest population in our country today -- the youth -- is also at the highest risk of death by suicide?

Our greatest battle has always been against stigma, which unfailingly breeds ignorance.

Not knowing when someone needs help, not knowing what to do when they ask for help, and not knowing where to get it from.

This year, let's take an oath to prepare ourselves. To educate and equip ourselves to help someone.

With a growing population flooding into the 'suicide vulnerability zone' let's do our bit to ensure that in 2019, not only the suicide rates, but also the number of suicide attempts go down.

Early signs of suicide

Psychological signs

Increased guilt

You may notice that they have started blaming themselves for everything, even things beyond their control.

You might hear them speak about themselves as the reason things are going wrong, or feeling like they are always making life difficult for others.

Believing that everything is their fault impacts their self-esteem, increases hatred for themselves, leads to feelings of needing 'punishment', or not being able to handle the weight of their “crimes”.

Low mood

You may find that the energy is sapped out of them -- they are dull most of the times, feeling low, crying at tiny matters.

You may even find that they are slow at everything – that they seem exhausted all the time, even though they may have stayed in bed all day.


One of the tell-tale signs of suicide is a feeling of utter hopelessness.

You'll notice a sense of doom about your loved one -- like there is no point in trying or fighting back, because the pain seems endless, and everything feels pointless.

They may be feeling trapped -- like there is no escaping the pain and misery, which is also what makes them give up on things they previously enjoyed.

Low concentration/attention

You'll realise that they are unable to pay attention, trailing off mid-sentence, spacing out a lot during conversations, find it hard to complete a task, or read a short write-up on the phone.

Lack of purpose

Another common sign is feeling like there is no point in doing anything -- having nothing worth living for.

Daily struggles start to feel cumbersome, things fail to be enjoyable.

They often refrain from long-term commitments like work projects or travel plans a long way ahead because they don't expect to be around much longer.

Behavioural signs

Talking about death

A subtle sign of suicide is a person talking about the afterlife, saying goodbye, discussing various means of ending their life.

While such things are hard to believe, and often passed off as 'too extreme to be true,' they are warning signs that must not be ignored.

Increased withdrawal

Another sign of suicide is isolation, or minimal interaction/communication compared to their usual behaviour.

Increased risk-taking behaviour

Drinking and driving, indulging in unsafe sex, engaging in various high-risk behaviours is another sign of a someone who doesn't need/want to be cautious about their safety/life anymore.

Threatening to kill themselves

It is easy to assume that someone who says they are going to kill themselves are probably doing it as an act of manipulation.

More often than not, it's a loud and clear cry for help.

Substance use

A person who has become to increasingly dependent on substances may be trying to cope with issues that they feel are beyond their control.

Dramatic change in behaviour

While you may be on the lookout for increased sadness, irritation, or aggressiveness, also be wary of abrupt relief/happiness.

Someone who has “found the solution to all their problems” may suddenly seem happy after a long period of misery.

What to do when you spot signs of suicide?

Ask them directly

Don't assume anything. You need to ask them directly 'Are you thinking about suicide?'

People often think that asking this question will feed the thought into their minds.

On the contrary, asking someone this question opens the door to discussing the problem, alleviates feelings of isolation and hopelessness, and shows them that someone cares and noticed.

Create a safety plan

If they say yes, create a safety plan with them -- whom will they call when they have thoughts of suicide, what will they do, what will they avoid.

Assess risk

Find out if they have a plan, if they have procured the means -- in such cases, don't leave them alone. Ask for assistance from loved ones.

Seek professional help

ALWAYS seek professional help. If they are unwilling to see a professional, speak to them yourself and understand what you can do to keep them safe.

The imperative thing about suicide is that anyone contemplating it will always display some of the signs outlined above.

Suicide is not a crime, or a weakness.

It is a sign that someone you know is feeling overwhelmed. That they are struggling, and losing hope in their ability to cope, losing the will to live.

Observe, ask them directly, support them through it, and get professional help. It is essential not to take these conversations/observations lightly.

Let's all do our part in creating a safer, stigma-free world!

 Lead image published for representational purposes only. 

Juhi Parmar is a psychologist and outreach Manager at Mpower.

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