Unbearable weight of being

Anyone can feel suicidal for a host of reasons. Offering support and understanding can help talk someone off a ledge

Rolling Inspiration
By Rolling Inspiration
8 Min Read

Anyone can feel suicidal for a host of reasons. Offering support and understanding can help talk someone off a ledge

By Sandy Lewis, clinical social worker and Netcare Compassion Coach

Suicide is the final symptom of a brain that is no longer able to cope, just like any other type of organ failure, it is the result of an illness that has become terminal.

Some people die by suicide without necessarily showing their intentions. If you have an uneasy feeling that someone may be thinking about suicide, it is very likely that by this time, the person is already well advanced with their plans to die.

For a person to consider suicide, the distress and suffering they are experiencing seems inescapable and endless, exceeding their perceived capacity to cope. Suicide may seem like the only way to escape the pain when a person feels their heart is broken, their soul is shattered, and their body can no longer fight. A person’s mind may beg for release, even at the expense of life itself.

The risk factors for suicide are a combination of biological, psychological and social factors, often all coming together at once in a potentially lethal mix that leaves a person buckling under the unbearable weight of their pain, worry, fear, grief, and despair.

Any one of us could find ourselves in a suicidal frame of mind if faced with a set of personally tragic and unfortunate circumstances that could threaten to break us. It is part of our shared humanity that we find ourselves in dark spaces at times. This is the time to offer compassion and kindness.

According to the Global Health Estimates Report 2019, South Africa has a suicide rate of 23,5 deaths per 100 000 population compared to a global average of nine per 100 000.

The local statistics for teenagers are deeply concerning, as the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) reports that 17,6 percent of teens have considered suicide, and as many as one in five 18-year-olds have had one or more suicide attempts.

Suicide can result from factors like mental health concerns, grief, trauma, physical illness, bullying, abuse, serious relationship troubles, work and financial problems, loneliness, burnout, and a family history of suicide.

Men and boys are at higher risk of completing suicide, and it has been suggested that outdated notions of what it means to be a man, as in “cowboys don’t cry”, contribute to this as males may find it more difficult to talk about feelings of emotional distress and ask for help due of shame and stigma. Substance use and financial pressures are also believed to be significant factors driving male suicide globally.

Never dismiss, brush off, shame, minimise, invalidate, or turn away from a suicidal person when they are trying to communicate their distress and their intentions. It is a myth that talking about suicide will increase the chances of it happening. We should never avoid having a conversation that could save a life. It can be difficult to find the words to open these conversations, and a helpful start could be, “It must be so very hard for you to be feeling like this, I would really like to understand and offer my help to you”. Most importantly, let the person know they are not alone.

Always seek help from a mental or medical healthcare practitioner who is professionally trained to assess and treat this particular emergency. Be proactive, don’t wait. The suicide warning is always a powerful communication of desperation and seeking help.

Judgment simply alienates the person in their loneliest hour and cuts off sorely needed potential support. Please take notice and extend a hand to anyone who might be at risk. Treat the warning signs of suicide as a medical emergency, and do not leave the suicidal person alone.

We should never underestimate the power of a kind presence when a person is in despair. Loneliness often tips a person from holding on to life to the decision to die.


Lived experience: A survivor’s insights

By Melissa Kemp

When I was in that really dark place, I would have thoughts that would scare me and find myself doing things without thinking, especially when alone. If you find yourself alone with the means to harm yourself, try to get out, even if just to the shops, as a temporary escape from that frame of mind.

When you are depressed, you don’t feel like socialising, but the situation can escalate quickly when you are isolated. It is hard to reach out to talk to people, but that really helped me. Nobody wants to air all their dark scary, intrusive thoughts, but when you do, you are surprised how many people struggle with something similar or can relate to how you feel, so you realise you are not entirely alone. Often, other people can share their coping strategies, too.

Family and parents can sometimes [miss] the signs of suicidal thoughts or mental health problems, which stems from a lack of understanding. Trying to open up to someone, and they respond by dismissing you with “you can’t be mentally ill because…” is not helpful – it only adds to the suffering because it makes you question yourself even more.

Writing down what you want to say is helpful. It gives you time to reflect on how you can frame your thoughts in a way that will be understandable for your parents or whomever you can talk to about what you are going through. This can take some of the pressure off.

Going into 21 days of inpatient therapy was the hardest and best thing I have ever done. It is a life-changing experience to realise mental health difficulties don’t make you defective, it is an illness. I feel like I’ve gone from seeing the world in black and white like an old TV to full-colour HD.

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