My Friend, Are you thinking of committing suicide? #SuicidePrevention

Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan
"I don't want to be around her right now. Listening to her sorrow will spoil my mood. Her depression is contagious."
"If she wants to come and talk about it, nobody is stopping her. But I am not going to go and ask her!"
"Yes, I know she was going through a bad phase but I did not think she would try to commit suicide. I mean, come on, ya. It was just a silly break-up! Some people just don't know how to handle life."

Think carefully.

  • Have you ever uttered any one of the above phrases? 
  • Have you ever watched a friend suffer and walked away, not wanting to have to bear the burden of listening to their story?
  • Have you chosen not to be around someone who was sad because you did not wish to spoil your own day?
  • Have you lost a friend to suicide?
How do you deal with a friend suffering from depression and considering suicide? #suicideprevention

I cannot judge you if you answered "yes" to any of the above questions simply because that would make me a part of the cycle I wish to break. So no accusations, no finger-pointing. I just want to share with you my own two and a half cents on how you can save the life of someone you know.

1. Look beyond the mask:
Do you know someone who fits any or a combination of the points below?

Image Source: here

Somebody whose smile you believe is a false one, struggling at the edges to hold on and vanishing the moment they believe no one is watching? Somebody who has lost something important to them in life - a loved one, money, health, a job, an exam? Perhaps more urgently, have they given up even the pretense of a fake smile? Do their words seem to focus more on the lack of a reason to continue on; a preoccupation with death?

This is important because four out of five people who commit suicide give clear warning signs prior to the attempt. You can identify them. You can save them.

2. Involve rather than isolate:
I cannot stress this enough. I understand how you feel that listening to someone who is sad will spoil your day. So here is my counter-argument: If you truly believe that someone's depression is a contagious entity which will spoil your day, surely you must also believe that your happiness is just as contagious and can make someone else's day better. Don't walk away from someone who you know is suffering inwardly. Spending ten minutes with them today will cost you nothing... but your selfless gesture may give them the will to last one more day.

3. Talk frankly:
Talking to someone who is mentally teetering on the edge of suicide is one of the hardest conversations you will have, especially if it is someone you care about and you have no solution to their aggravating factor. That is okay.
Don't talk about the weather and the sports game and walk away, thinking you have done your part and they should have opened up if they wanted to talk about what was in their mind. Actively bring up the topic.
Ask them how they are doing. Let them know you are aware of their pain and they don't need this mask around you.
What truly lies behind an "I'm fine."

If the warning bells in your head start ringing, do not back away but ask the all-important question:
"My friend, are you thinking of committing suicide?"
You would be surprised by how many would frankly answer in the positive, if they were just asked this question.

4. Listen rather than solve:
We may not be able to provide solutions but we can always provide support. Listening to them talk will not make you feel suicidal... but it will unburden the pain in their heart and you become the new voice of reason here, their own voice blocked within their head.

5. Do not mock their pain:
They don't need you to tell them they are being silly just because they lost in love or an exam. Do not belittle them. Our feelings are always relative. What may seem like a usual failed teenage love story to you could mean the world to them. Not getting a seat in the entrance exam may not be a big deal to you and I with our decades of life experience behind us but to them, it may feel like the end of their life's goal. Belittling someone's mental anguish is the saddest thing you could do to them.

6. Do not guilt them:
One of the commonest mistakes you will make is to use guilt as a defining factor to short-circuit their sorrows.
"Think of your parents."
"Suicide is a sin. God will not grant you entry into heaven."
No. Stop that line of thought! Shaming someone who is standing on the edge only further reminds them of how they are 'a failure and causing more suffering to others' by their deeds. Debating the value of their life is not a solution, no matter how many times it may seem to work in movies.

Image source: here

7. Show them they matter:
Most people who attempted suicide spoke of how they did not really want to die. They just wanted to 'be wanted'. This is where you truly come in. By showing them that you value their presence in your life. Be kind but firm. Remind them why and what you value in your friendship with them.

8. Take away any means of suicide:
If you know they have come in possession of a possible source to end their life (eg: drugs, a weapon), do not hesitate to confiscate it. I know this goes against the whole "be kind" principle but it is necessary. Do not leave them alone but get them to a safe place where someone who cares for them (a parent, spouse, loved one) can keep an eye on them.

9. We will see you tomorrow:
"We'll see you tomorrow" is the campaign of "To Write Love on Her Arms" for National Suicide Prevention Week.
This sentence is so simple and yet I find it so profound. I honestly would ask you to end your conversation with anyone with these words. You see, as we have noted earlier, we never know who is wearing a mask to hide their pain. We don't know who is at the edge of the cliff, wondering if tonight should be their last night on Earth. By simply reminding them that we are looking forward to seeing them tomorrow, we open up a door that they have closed - we show them that somebody does care for their presence.
Somebody cares for their story and that somebody is us. 

Image source: here

10. Come back the next day
Because it takes more than a few minutes to stop the flood of emotions within them. Because the tendency for suicide will return. And so will the sense of loneliness. But most importantly, because you are a true friend. And you want your friend to survive.

Give a friend the gift of hope - hope that there is a tomorrow. That there is a day called tomorrow wherein his/her life can still change and become better. That there is a tomorrow where his/her life will make a difference for someone else.  

Authors note:
It took me two hours to write this. In that time, 180 people around the world have committed suicide. Nearly 8,00,000 people successfully commit suicide every year and it remains the second largest cause of death in age groups 15 - 29. And each death could have been prevented if just one friend had taken an extra few moments to let the victim know that their lives mattered.

Last year, for #SuicidePrevention, I had written a post for the person who was feeling suicidal reminding him/her that "This is not how my story ends." This year, I wanted to turn the focus to the other side of the table - the ones who see someone suffering. The ones who can make a difference. 

I'll see you tomorrow.

Updated (March 2017)

Every year on September 10 - World Suicide Prevention Day, I write on the topic of Suicide Prevention. 

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Let me know what you think.

  1. I could relate to it as i had been through a very low phase in my life.
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post.

  2. Very important points Roshan. Sometimes it is difficult to even understand that someone is depressed. Now we get to read of many people and their experiences which is surely helpful to others. Someone I know had called up everyone on the day he wanted to commit suicide. These are also warning bells.

  3. Such a well written post Roshan. I think the biggest barrier to suicide prevention is most people not knowing what to do about it and therefore preferring to not talk about it.

  4. Beautifully written. This is such an important issue and all we need to do is reach out and connect. As simple it may sound, but we generally tend to think nobody is stupid enough to commit suicide.

    I just wrote a post on the same topic now.

  5. I like how you "arranged" the post, Roshan. Suicide is 100% preventable and that's the truth. :) I am working on my own post right now. Thanks for these valuable tips. Suicide is such a delicate issue that people prefer to stay away from it.

  6. You've put it together so well, Roshan. And yes, we must learn not to back away from difficult conversations!

  7. Your post is so inspirational and a great reminder that we need to be there for others and not to make light of their troubles. We need to help, and comfort.

  8. Reaching out and connecting with those who are at a vulnerable phase of life is so very important. Usually, we underestimate the power of a small talk, a comforting word or just being there for someone. And all this would make a world of difference for the one who is contemplating suicide!

  9. What an amazing resource for all of us! Thank you so much, Roshan for taking the time to write this!

  10. Thanks Kathy. Yes, it all seems like simple things and yet, we are obviously failing to do even this much if people are still committing suicide at such an alarming rate.

  11. I think that is what worries people more - having to try and pacify someone or find a solution for them. The thing is sometimes there may not be an easy solution... but at least we can be there for them during such times and see them through that phase.

  12. I hear so many people say that "they looked sad. They should have said something." And that is just it - when you are withdrawing away from people, that is when you need people to come forward and bring you back into the light and away from the darkness in your mind. They say a person commits suicide every 40 seconds... that doesn't take into account the number who attempt and fail. If you add that, the numbers would be devastating, I feel.

  13. Thanks Roshni. Hopefully someone will consider these points and reach out to a friend in need.

  14. Yes, many prefer not to discuss it and as some have pointed out, many don't know what to do about it. That is why I went with a "headline" style post not unlike our old exam answers :)

  15. I think so too. People don't want to/know how to react to someone who is depressed so they prefer not to be involved. They don't realize that their very presence could be life saving.

  16. Saw your post... and totally agree. People just don't think it can happen to anyone they know. The sad fact is you never know what people are going through.

  17. Believe me... you are not alone. I can assure you that we have all been there and wondered where to go from here. Glad to see you here today and messaging :)

  18. That is as clear a sign as you can get... giving away possessions, talking directly of the act. It should never be taken lightly. If even one person actively engages the person, you have a chance to make him change his mind.

  19. I think we all need a guide like this. I think a lot of it is to just be human and reach out to others - even if it is just a hello or a how are you today.

  20. Yes... in the end, its just about doing the basics right, but even that seems so hard for some. I guess this is as simple as I can make it... a point-by-point play on what to do.

  21. Vishal BheerooOctober 08, 2015

    Doc, you made very valid points, on how contagious happiness is and we need to avoid the mistakes of how sinful suicide is and thinking about parents. We must be more humane in our approach by speaking to someone who feels wanted. We all deserve happiness. It's a great guidelines.

  22. It is a common thing I see.. "guilting" the person. That is a really bad approach making someone who is feeling lost feel even more crappy. The idea is to be positive, not negative.

  23. A very relevant and detailed post, Roshan. If by our collective efforts we can do our bit towards helping someone stay away from the brink, then that would be wonderful. A great post. Truly.

  24. I've tried to make it as simple as I could.. Literally dumbed it down to a point by point format. I hope someone atleast takes note and tries to help a friend in need.

  25. A very hard and very wonderful post at the same time. Yes, this I have felt - been in this with body and soul and it is very hard. But amazing to help someone who can accept your help. But also important to know not to blame oneself if the other person choose to commit suicide. That can also be tha hardest and unfair burden to carry. I love the idea of giving friends and family the hope that there will be a tomorrow.

  26. Wonderful post. Thank you for sensitizing me about this grave issue. Sometimes we really don't know what to do! This really will help.

  27. I agree.... we can't blame ourselves if things go bad either. I think that is the curse of the empath... carries the guilt upon his/her shoulders even if it doesn't belong to him/her.

  28. glad you went through with it... you can make a difference. we all can.

  29. Roshan, I had wanted to die when my dad passed away on my birthday, a few years ago. I didn't think of suicide but willed God to take me away from all the heartache and pain in this world. The same thing happened with Sparky's leaving, I felt devastated, I still cry for her sometimes.Like the guy waving to strangers, I see signs that make me forget my pain. An inspirational quote pops up on my fb timeline, a friend messages hello, out of the blue, my son calls me up from Canada, where he is studying for the past year. I think we should have a standard practice of sending happy notes to friends and family frequently,look for telltale signs in our friends' eyes. I also liked your point about asking outright if they are thinking of committing suicide, might save lives.I am sad all the time, especially now that my Sparky's first anniversary is coming up. let us keep each other in our prayers and hope for the best.

  30. This post had me in tears!
    Good and so much needed. Specially for kids and students who are under pressure!

  31. Quite a well crafted post roshan. A person on the verge of suicide needs to know how much pain it will bring to his/her close ones.

  32. This is a very important topic to discuss Roshan. Every 10th person feels like this some or the other time. More important is to look for the signs of committing suicide in that person. Maybe we can solve the problem at that stage only.

  33. I have lost two of my batch mates to suicide in the same year we passed MBBS.One commited suicide onnthevday of G&O final practicals.I can never forget

  34. Suicide becomes common among youth they choose as the easiest way to come out of all the problems of life. This is such a motivating post for them

  35. Very positive post. I lost one of my friends to depression and know well how it feels.

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