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If you are close to somebody who has been contemplating suicide or who has been talking about it, take them seriously. There are ways to help them realize that suicide may not be the only solution to their problems or the way they are feeling. With a suicidal person, the worst thing you can do is do nothing.

According to a recent research report compiled by UK doctors, many suicidal people are not getting the attention they need, partially because it is assumed that only mentally ill people take their own lives. Although the risk for suicide does increase in people who are suffering from various mental health problems, it is most often feelings of hopelessness and unbearable psychological pain that precipitates suicide attempts. “These feelings are expressed in more then 90% of all suicide notes,” state Dr Rory O’Connor from the University of Strathclyde and Professor Noel Sheehy from Queen’s University in Belfast.

Dr O'Connor and Prof. Sheehy also comment that: “Labelling individuals as mentally ill is not going to reduce the suicide rate. It will only serve to maintain the stigma and reduce the likelihood that those at risk will seek help.” Instead they suggest education to improve awareness about various risk factors like hopelessness, a perfectionist personality, and a tendency to recall only negative memories, the fostering of more effective communication amongst the youth, the teaching of stress management and problem solving skills, and the breaking down of age-old stereotypes like ‘men don’t cry’. They believe that: “In the vast majority of cases, suicide is not abnormal but rather the unfortunate consequence of the interaction of risk factors and precipitants. Such factors can lead anyone to take their life."

Any number of events or situations can be risk factors and each case is unique. A situation that finally prompts one person to take his or her own life may not effect another person in the same way. Often it is more the way the person perceives an event and its consequences that makes the difference. Examples of these risk factors are: the loss of a loved one, especially if it was sudden, which can drive a person into such despair they may feel that their own death is the only way to achieve pain relief; work stress; retrenchment; financial difficulties; abuse in the home; the break-up of an important personal relationship; a family history of suicide, especially if it was a parent, as then suicide may have been planted in the person's mind as a way to solve problems; humiliation; guilt and also mental illness.

Having control of our lives, which means having control of ourselves and the situations affecting us, is necessary to feel content. Anticipating a person's suicide requires an awareness of what is going on in her life. Pay attention to the friend whose circumstances may have driven him/her to the conclusion that the only way to regain control of his/her life would be to end it. In addition to the circumstances mentioned above, suicidal people often provide clues that they are moving in the direction of self-destruction. The most common of these include feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness, sleep disturbances, difficulty thinking or concentrating and spending a lot of time alone. If someone close to you is experiencing these symptoms contact the Depression and Anxiety Support Group, between 8am and 7pm, Monday to Friday, and between 8am and 5pm on Saturdays, for telephone counselling, advice and referrals, on (011) 783 1474 or (011) 884 1797.

According to Earl A Grollman and Max Malikow, indications that someone is suicidal include the following:

1. He's asking questions about what happens to a person who dies or showing an unusually strong interest in afterlife subjects

2. She's talking fatalistically, declaring the meaninglessness of life and the futility of trying to enjoy life in a world that is so cruel and unjust

3. He's showing a preoccupation with books, movies, poems or songs that feature death

4. She's talking about meeting with a doctor or clergyperson without being clear about why (such meetings can be helpful, especially if the doctor or clergyperson knows about your friend's depression or suicidal thinking)

5. He's looking up and contacting people that he hasn't seen for some time (this could be to say goodbye - directly or indirectly)

6. She's giving things away, as if to distribute remembrances to special people

7. He's isolating himself and showing indifference to friends and activities he used to enjoy

8. Her performance is dropping and she seems unaffected by it

9. He's behaving recklessly, showing no regard for the danger in high speed driving, drug overdosing, or being in the company of risk-taking people

10. She's securing the means to kill herself (suicidal people often acquire prescription medication and renew the prescription without using up the first one - this is called stockpiling)

11. He's choosing or insisting on staying home when his family is going away for the weekend or on vacation

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group conduct “Suicide Shouldn’t be a secret” workshops and presentation to schools. Giving the message to teachers, parents and students that suicide is real and it is the most lethal consequence of Depression. If you know anyone showing any of these behaviours, the most important thing is not to ignore the situation. Don't leave them alone or dare or challenge them, rather let the person know you care and reassure them that there are treatments available and ways to work through their problems, no matter how hopeless everything may seem. Waste no time in finding help. Contact friends, family members and a crisis intervention centre or suicide prevention hotline.