SUICIDE: CAN IT HAPPEN TO ANYONE?
The recent news of James Small's attempted suicide has shocked the public. What could possibly drive a wealthy, famous athlete to try to take his own life? For most, the myth that only someone who is mentally unstable would kill themselves, is still a strong belief.
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.
For many people it seems that James Small had no reason to attempt to kill himself. He has everything going for him. He's famous, wealthy and an exceptional athlete. With these attributes, the assumption is that he must have a number of friends, loads of support and every reason to be excited about his future. But no matter how gifted and successful a person is, he still experiences pain and disappointment like everybody else.
According to Earl A Grollman and Max Malikow, authors of 'Living When a Young Friend Commits Suicide': " It is also not unusual for a person who has everything going for him to expect a great deal from himself. A popular saying from the Christian Bible is 'To whom much is given, much is required'. The person who sets high goals for himself is just as likely to experience failure as anybody else. A well-known quotation from a famous philosopher is 'Most men lead lives of quiet desperation'. When a philosopher's quotation has become well known it's because it's captured a truth about life. We are always on the outside of another person's life. As observers we can never know what is going on in the mind and heart of another human being. The thoughts and feelings of another are available to us only if that person chooses to share them."
In the case of James Small, this is especially true. We, the public, only see what we are shown. There could have been any number of things going on in his life that finally led him to believe that suicide was his only option. 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 a person to take their life.
Risk factors and precipitants can be any number of events or situations and each case is unique. A situation that finally prompts one person to take his or her own life may not affect 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. A perfectionist personality, a tendency to recall only negative memories and the age-old stereotype that 'men don't cry' have also been identified as risk factors. Any combination of these could have played a role in James Small's decision.
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 their life. Pay attention to the friend whose circumstances may have driven them to the conclusion that the only way to regain control of their life would be to end it.
In addition to the warning signs 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, spending a lot of time alone, talking about suicide, giving away possessions, looking up people they haven't seen in a long time - to say good-bye, either directly or indirectly, and engaging in reckless behaviour - which includes drugging, driving dangerously etc.
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. Experienced counsellors are available at 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.
There will also always be those people who think that people who attempt suicide are just looking for attention, but the fact that many people who do commit suicide have a history of previous attempts should signal the alarm to take these attempts seriously. Earl Grollman and Max Malikow state: "Some people are not very good at planning things, including their suicide. Many attempts fail because of an overdose that wasn't lethal or a car that withstood a crash. One of the reasons that medical doctors have a surprisingly high rate of suicide is that they don't make mistakes when overdosing. Also, there are many cases of people surviving suicide attempts that seemed almost certain to kill them. The ability of the human body to survive trauma is almost incredible."
Most importantly, they also state: "When dealing with a person who has attempted suicide, it's not the most important thing to determine whether or not he did it for attention. Either you have a person who actually wants to die or one who desperately wants to be heard. Whichever is the case, you are dealing with a person who needs to be heard. You're dealing with someone who needs professional help."