Say it out loud: suicide is preventable. We ask a clinical psychologist how to spot the warning signs of suicide, ways to begin the conversation and things we shouldn’t do.
Trigger warning: this article mentions suicide. There are two ways you can be dealing with the pandemic. Maybe you’ve given extra TLC to your well-being by being “that girl” on TikTok or acing meditation. Maybe your mental health has taken a toll on you and therapy is what gets you by. Or maybe you’ve experienced a bit of both.
Mental health has seen a decline over the last few years. Look around you and you’ll notice that morale is low. Sadly, we’ve got the statistics to prove it too. In an article by The Straits Times, 452 suicides were reported in Singapore in 2020 – the highest figure since 2012 and a 13% increase from 2019. The increase in suicides was notable across all age groups, but it’s shocking to find out the number of suicides among the elderly (aged 60 and above) had the highest records since 1991.
It’s tough to tell if someone is considering suicide. Anyone around you – be it the chirpiest person in your group or that girl you follow on Instagram who seems to have her life sorted – can be struggling with it.
We’re glad that annual events such as World Suicide Prevention Day and Suicide Prevention Month help to raise awareness about this topic. But beyond these days, it’s important to know the telling signs and how to approach the topic the right way with a loved one.
That’s why we asked clinical psychologist Jae-Mie Yiew of Psychology Blossom to share with us suicide warning signs, ways to begin the conversation and some no-nos to avoid any triggers.
How to spot the warning signs of suicide: An expert shares…
To start, let’s talk about the reasons that lead to someone having suicidal thoughts.
Although there are a variety of factors that can lead someone to consider suicide, depression and stressful or traumatic events are the most common causes I’ve encountered in my clients. People facing these issues often experience hopelessness from being stuck in a cycle of depression where they see no way out. They become pessimistic and have no expectations for the future.
What are some common signs of suicidal behaviour?
People considering suicide may exhibit behaviour that’s out of character for them. Some factors psychologists keep a look out for are withdrawal from activities and physical and emotional isolation from family and friends. They may also become increasingly fatigued, lose interest in things they used to enjoy or display extreme mood swings. Changes in appearance may also take place such as rapid weight changes or a lack of concern in maintaining personal hygiene or appearance.
Now that we’ve identified the signs, talking to someone about suicide can be tricky. How can we start the conversation the right way?
Talking about suicide with someone you care about can be scary and uncomfortable. You can try to see it as an opportunity to learn more about the other person. Start by letting them know you’ve noticed something different about them and the reasons for your concern. Sharing some of your own struggles is another way to start the conversation. Encourage conversation by asking open-ended questions such as “how long have you been feeling this way?” or “can you tell me more about what you’re going through?”.
What else can we do to help?
The best thing you can do for your friend or loved one is to empathise and reassure them that you’re there to listen and support. Look for opportunities to have a conversation with them whenever you can, or schedule a date and time to do something together. Encourage them to seek professional help they’re comfortable with such as a counsellor or psychologist. You can even offer to accompany them to the appointment. They may feel more at ease and reassured with someone beside them.
What are some things we shouldn’t say or do?
Remember that pain is subjective and avoid giving comments like “that doesn’t sound too bad” or “other people have it worse.” By minimising their feelings or discrediting their pain, it gives the other person the impression that you don’t really listen to what they are saying. They may feel discouraged from approaching you again.
Conversations about mental health and suicide can be tricky and uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to help our loved ones. Maybe all they need is a listening ear and that one uncomfortable conversation can save their life.
If you’re dealing with a crisis or know of anyone who’s struggling with suicidal thoughts, take note of these important hotlines:
- Samaritans of Singapore: 1 767 (24-hour hotline)
- National CARE Hotline: 1800 202 6868
- Institute of Mental Health Mental Health Helpline: 6389 2222
- Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800 283 7019
- Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6386 1928 or 6509 0271
- SAGE Counselling Centre The Seniors Helpline: 1800 555 5555