Dealing with suicide

2011-12-01 11:45

Georgina Guedes

DJ Fresh has recently come under fire for his frustration with a friend’s suicide threats. But where do you draw the line with ongoing threats, asks Georgina Guedes.

I have been in the unfortunate position of having had people I know and love commit suicide, and others threaten suicide. It’s no picnic, I can tell you. In my experience, the ones who mean to do it, do it quietly. The ones who threatened it have never closed the deal.

However, I am aware that my experience is only based on a, thankfully, small group of people.  According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), 75% of people who have committed suicide have given some kind of warning signs to their friends or family.

The warning signs aren’t necessarily an announcement of the intention to end it all, but can be subtly significant, like talking about who will look after the dog if something were to happen, or suddenly seeming happier after a period of depression because an end to their troubles is in sight.

Sadag - and many others - hit out at DJ Fresh this week because he tweeted an unsympathetic response to friend who was threatening suicide. This was his tweet:
“Attention seeking person i know says ‘i just tried to kill myself’… would it be ‘wrong’ to send them 5 ways that WILL work? #SOselfish” [sic]

I believe that Fresh’s tweet was born out of extreme frustration with an attention-seeking individual who had repeatedly done this. Speaking as someone who has experienced loss of a loved one through suicide, I can say that using the threat of killing yourself to garner attention is a low-down, dirty way of asking for help.

But a cry for help it is. And while everyone who threatens suicide might not actually be on the brink of slitting their wrists, they’re obviously in a bad enough place that they feel that this is how to communicate it.

The problem with a repeat offender, like Fresh’s friend, is that it does become difficult to hear a genuine cry for help among all the crying wolf. And sure, each threat might be a genuine call, if not a genuine suicide, at some point people are going to stop listening.

So, I sympathise with Fresh’s sentiment, but think that the public announcement of his disinterest in walking that road with his friend again was perhaps a bit misguided, given all the sensitivities around the issue.

Sadag’s feedback that the person is likely to do it one day doesn’t really help, in my mind, because there are people out there who endlessly threaten suicide without actually doing it. Friends and family can’t be expected to put their lives on hold every time it happens in a show of support and love.

Because it isn’t about simply saying “oh, don’t be silly - we all love you”, is it? If you really think someone’s about to kill themselves, you have to work out where you are, jump in your car, break down a door and physically restrain them. And that’s just the beginning - you then have to get involved in an ongoing process to help them back from the brink.

I’m not saying that any of this is too much effort to save a life; but I do think that it’s too much to go through every year if you’re not saving a life. Ultimately, it becomes abusive. My advice to Fresh and others in his position would be to offer all the love, support and counselling that they can, and then decide about whether to maintain such a difficult friendship.

If someone were to repeatedly threaten to kill their wife, something would be done about it. The impact on external people from a suicide is similar.

Distinguishing between a genuine cry for help and an attention-seeking one is tricky, and there’s no easy solution for it. But I don’t feel that anyone should be continuously be subjected to a friend’s suicide threats.

That being the case, if you are in any doubt about yourself or a loved one, get in touch with SADAC on their toll-free Suicide Crisis Line - 0800 055 555. They have loads more experience than we do as individuals - thank goodness.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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  • Drake - 2011-12-01 13:00

    Ah yes, Suicide…Often referred to as the ‘cowards way out’ but that isn’t true at all. If this path is, as the bewildered herd say, the easy way out, our species would have been extinct a long time ago. The idea is extremely appealing, not living anymore, but unfortunately I lack the necessary brass balls to do it.

      Joanne - 2011-12-02 11:56

      I agree on all points - very few friends or family members are equipped to practically help someone who is battling issues on this level.

  • Mabel - 2011-12-02 08:31

    Suicide is very painful for the family and friends left behind. A cousing committed suicide 30 years ago and I still can't fathom out why because she had everything. It is not a 'cowards way out'... suicide takes a lot of courage. Those however, who threaten suicide all the time to gain attention do not deserve sympathy. They need to be told to either do it or get psychiatric help. No one has the right to emotionally blackmail family and friends by their threats to kill themselves. They need to grow up!

      helene.cassisa - 2011-12-02 10:21

      Friend of mine, had a nice chat with her hubby while cleaning up after their new years party, fed the parrot and the dog, discussed their supper with her sister, went to her room and shot herself. No note, nothing. She was a cheerful, happy person up to the last minute, making jokes, etc. Years later the husband & family/friends still don't know why she did it.

      Lodewyk - 2011-12-03 20:43

      Agreed Mabel, 100%

  • Joanne - 2011-12-02 11:55

    I agree on all points - very few friends or family members are equipped to practically help someone who is battling issues on this level.

  • An observer - 2011-12-04 19:41

    I have had a few friends and a brother who committed suicide so I have given a lot of thought to this. I had another brother who threatened to do it several times but didn't (he did try but was "rescued" - by me, of course, because he gave me notice). It is attention seeking and a kind of revenge on those who didn't notice their "specialness". Most of us struggle with the idea that we are quite ordinary. However, our ordinariness is unique, in that we all uniquely ordinary. Suicide is such a useless way to try to draw attention to our ordinariness. Why don't we just understand that we are unique, but ordinarily so? I respect people's decision to take their own lives. The reason, in my view that, that they take their own lives, is because they have lost their ability to share their lives. They see their lives in isolation and not connected to the lives of others. A sad social comment.

  • Willem - 2011-12-05 16:32

    And there is off course the coir that says that your family member or friend went to hell for what they did. I find that comment to be very insensitive, none of us commited suicide and came back to earth to tell everybody what will happen if you do end it all. I believe you have to explain to your maker why you did what you did and that he is merciful enough to understand you reason for 'leaving early'.

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