‘Once a person has decided to commit suicide, they start behaving out of character’ – expert

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People deal with the grief of losing a loved one differently, experts say they should seek professional help.
People deal with the grief of losing a loved one differently, experts say they should seek professional help.
GALLO IMAGES: Sowetan / Thulani Mbele

It may be the long, sad Facebook post. Or it might be a growing hopelessness or disinterest in interacting with others.

We may not know what thoughts may have been racing through a person's head in the last moments before they end things, but people always give signs and hints that they are in pain or struggling long before taking their own lives.

This is according to clinical psychologist Zintle Nobangule who says “sometimes people misinterpret the signs or take them from granted, thinking people are overreacting or seeking attention".

"Some people may also think the person is over the thing that was causing them pain," she adds.

"When a person has made the decision to take their own life, they do things out of character in the days leading up to the suicide. Some even give away valuable goods."
– Zintle Nobangule, clinical psychologist

She says grief can come to people in many forms when a loved one has passed away.

“It is not uncommon for those left behind to be conflicted in their feelings because of denial, anger, guilt or self-blame. Often people want to retrace their steps and conversations, trying to figure out how they could not have seen their loved on in pain and wonder what they could have done differently,” she tells Drum.

The entertainment industry and the country as a whole is dealing with the death of veteran actor Patrick Shai who allegedly took his own life at the weekend. Internationally, condolences have also been sent to actress Regina King whose son, Ian Alexander Jr, committed suicide.

More than 700 000 people die due to suicide every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) – that's one suicidal death every second.

Some people may be left with guilt and self-blame when a loved on takes their own life. When a person commits suicide, however, they are not doing it to hurt or punish their family, the therapist says, but because they are in a state of hopelessness and see suicide as their only option.

"What is important to note," says Zintle, "is that there are many factors that can lead a person suicide but they are not being selfish. In fact, in many cases they believe that by removing themselves, there will be more peace in the lives of their loved ones because the burden they think they are, is gone.”

Read more | Hlomla Dandala on Patrick Shai’s death - ‘Cancel culture killed him’

The links between mental illness and suicide have also been well documented and, with the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more people around the world are suffering from depression, including children. “Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14,” says the WHO.

“Suicide is not an easy or overnight decision that people arrive at," Zintle explains. "There is a lot of internal turmoil that leads them to that place.

"It may not be easy for their loved ones to see it, but when they are at that level of pain, suicide is the only thing that makes sense to them because they have no hope and they do not see a way out."

She believes that grief is experienced differently in cases of suicide as people find it easier to deal with the loss of a loved one who was sick rather than one who was here today and gone the next day.

“When a person is sick and needs to be cared for, in a way, the family members are able to prepare themselves for the eventuality of their passing depending on how ill they are. Even when a person is in hospital, the family can sometimes see the direction they are heading in. So when a person dies suddenly through suicide, those left behind can find it difficult to come to terms with it.

Read more | AKA shows how depression doesn’t discriminate – here's how to get help if you're struggling to cope

“It is highly recommended that the family of a person who commits suicide should go to therapy together to deal with their loss, but also to go individually because they each had a personal relationship with the deceased outside of the family unit.”

Bêne Otto is a counselling psychologist with a special interest in grief and she says people often struggle to come to terms with deaths that are stigmatized.

“In cases where it may seem like the person had a hand in their own death or a disease with a stigma like HIV, the loved ones sometimes struggle with that kind of loss. It is also normal for people to ask questions like ‘how could you leave us?’ when they are dealing with the shock of a loved one committing suicide.”

Bêne advises people to seek professional help when trying to come to terms with their loss.

“In general, people can need therapy when trying to deal with a loss but it can be worse when they are dealing with a loss from a suicide. Therapy can be a really helpful way to deal with their emotions and explore perhaps why they are angry at the deceased for their decision to take their own life. "

Get help: SADAG is dedicated to suicide-prevention and crisis-intervention for people going through crisis. The organisation runs a toll-free Suicide Crisis Helpline. If you or a loved one are in crisis, you can call 0800-567-567 or visit the SADAG website.

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