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How do you know someone is suicidal?

Someone around you might be crying out for help. Do you know how to react?

Image Credit: Gulf News
Gulf News

There might be someone around you who is in trouble, clinically depressed and entertaining suicidal thoughts. How can you help? In fact, how do you know who needs help?

Many news reports this year have highlighted the need to know the answers to these questions as a UAE resident.

A Sri Lankan family committed suicide in Sharjah in August this year, after their youngest son died of a sudden epileptic attack. The parents died, while two sisters survived the group suicide pact.

Earlier this year, in June, Ras Al Khaimah police managed to save a young German man who tried to commit suicide on Facebook Live. In the same month, an Indian man killed himself after he had to send his family back home due to financial stress.


The way people deal with such stress and difficulty varies and so does the way they show signs that they are considering suicide.

Dr Nicholas Wakefield, a clinical psychologist based in Dubai, said: “Everybody is slightly different in terms of what their risk factors are but common recent bereavement, loss of job, financial concerns or increased risky behaviour, like drug and alcohol abuse are all risk factors.”

According to a 2009 study published by the US’s National Institute of Health, around 10 per cent of the average population has suicidal thoughts but only two to three per cent of those people actually convert those thoughts into actual suicide attempts.

“When they have specific plans to commit suicide, it is a serious concern. They might be gathering instruments of self-harm, like knives or medication. But also, sometimes, there are things like a sudden change in behaviour — they might turn up to say goodbye or have a certain serenity.”

Talk about it

One aspect that many people underestimate is the value of a good conversation. They might avoid addressing the issue, worried they might put ideas into someone’s head. But counsellors Gulf News spoke with highlighted the importance of just checking in on a person, who you know is going through a rough patch.

“It might just mean being empathetic and listening to the other person’s issue – whether it is a relationship issue, job loss or some situation back home that is triggering an inability to deal with that situation,” Rema Menon, a career counsellor told Gulf News.

The conversation, Menon said, helped people get perspective on their personal problems

“When you are sunk in misery, it can help to just get it off your chest. It is a form of catharsis to talk to somebody who is objective and not sitting in judgement of you,” she said.

Simple questions like, “Are you doing alright?” or “How are you feeling today?” can help people open up about the troubles in their lives.

Menon, who deals with many students, also highlighted the need to raise critical cases with a psychiatrist.

“Someone who is always crying, not able to perform routine tasks or is too depressed to handle everyday life definitely has to go to a psychiatrist so that they can find out what is going on.”

For example, a young mother might suffer from post-partum depression or other forms of stress simply because she is not able to share the responsibilities of child care with someone else. Mothers who move from highly demanding jobs to full-time caregiving can also struggle with the change.

Some red flags, according to Menon, were if a person began to withdraw from activities that they once enjoyed or was avoiding social interactions. A drastic change in sleeping patterns can also be a cause for concern.

“Some people who go through a difficult time can’t sleep, even for a bit, because all these thoughts are rattling around in their head. Others could take the avoidance route and sleep for long periods of time. If they are awake, they would need to deal with the reality of everyday life, so this is their way of withdrawing.”

A crisis management plan

If you know someone is already seeking professional help with suicidal thoughts, speak to them about what you should do when they are in a particularly low place, according to Dr Wakefield.

“Tell them: ‘I know at times you get very distressed. What should I do to help you in that moment?’”

Creating any crisis management plan is best done in collaboration with the person and ideally with the inputs of their counsellor. What matters is that the person who has suicidal thoughts is able to reach out when they are at their lowest.

“A common misconception is that once a person has decided to commit suicide, they are going to act, which is not the case,” Dr Wakefield said.

“People definitely underestimate the value of just listening to someone. Speak to them until their thoughts go away. One of the most important things to remember is that suicidal thoughts are temporary but suicide is permanent.”

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