'All suicide threats should be taken seriously' – Expert on warning signs and helping a loved one

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If your loved one expresses suicidal thoughts, let them know you are there for them.
If your loved one expresses suicidal thoughts, let them know you are there for them.
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  • Globally, more than 700 000 die by suicide each year.
  • This means one life is cut short approximately every 40 seconds.
  • An expert at Netcare shares tips to help loved ones with suicidal thoughts.

Losing a loved one to suicide is one of the most painful and challenging experiences that can shatter our sense of a predictable world. 

For those struggling with depression or feelings of hopelessness and despair, it may seem like the only way out. 

“For each loss of life to suicide, there are estimated to be 20 attempted suicides and even more people with thoughts or ideas of suicide,” says Megan Hosking, crisis line and marketing manager of Netcare Akeso mental health facilities. 

READ MORE | Celebrity suicides turn spotlight on mental health

To put the scale of this mental health burden into perspective, Hosking referenced figures by the World Health Organization (WHO): estimates indicate that 703 000 individuals worldwide die by suicide each year. She says:

“This is one life cut short approximately every 40 seconds, and untold pain for families who are often left with many questions.”

Factors linked to suicide

“The contributing factors to suicidal thoughts and behaviours are numerous and include mental health disorders, other illnesses, substance misuse, loss, experience of trauma, and psychosocial problems,” says Hosking. “Sadly, many people who are experiencing these, or feelings of hopelessness and despair, will not reach out in time.”

While people who are suicidal may not always reveal their inner pain or intentions in a way that others can recognise, there are many common warning signs that should be taken seriously, says Hosking. 

READ MORE | Should it really take tragic celebrity suicides to shine the spotlight on mental health?

Check in with your mental health and that of your loved ones, and look out for any of these warning signs:

  • Talking or thinking about death, harming or killing themselves/yourself.
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness and having no hope for the future.
  • Expressing being a “burden” to others.
  • Seeking out things that may be harmful, such as drugs or weapons.
  • Saying goodbye or giving away possessions that they value.
  • Increased isolation from family members and friends.
  • Self-destructive behaviour.
  • Previous suicide attempts.
  • A sudden sense of calm – this could indicate the person has a plan for suicide and has made ’peace’ with their situation. 

“All suicide threats or indications should be taken seriously, and the necessary support can help keep the person safe. There is no shame in seeking assistance, and it is always better to act if a person’s life could be in danger,” says Hosking.

Reaching out for help

If you are feeling suicidal or having thoughts of harming yourself, or if you need advice for assisting a loved one, Netcare Akeso offers a 24-hour crisis line on 0861 435 787. 

“Trained counsellors are available to talk to without judgement and can guide you on the various options for assistance, whether for yourself or for a loved one,” adds Hosking.

READ MORE | Depression and online bullying can be a lethal combination, says psychiatrist

The South African Anxiety and Depression Group (SADAG) also provides a 24-hour suicide crisis helpline on 0800 567 567. 

“Remember, you are not alone, and there is always another way,” says Hosking.


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