Updated March 2016
By Canon Ed Swayze
When someone we care about suicides, it is very painful. When someone we care about talks about suicide, it can be frightening.
A person who is suicidal may feel that they have massive problems and no other alternative to solve their problems except for suicide. The suicidal person may feel alone, even that God is absent. It may be hard to fathom that a person who has a number of social relationships can be suicidal until one can understands the private pain which is often secret and whether the person is able to talk about his or her feelings. An example of private pain is being a victim of sexual abuse.
It may be helpful to consider indicators of suicidal behaviour. The three most important are a history of suicide, dealing with difficult issues, and a lack of emotional support systems. A history of suicide is personally trying to suicide, or having a family member or a friend whom has tried or succeeded. Dealing with difficult issues is difficult for the person concerned, it may be the first time they dealt with grief and are just learning how to cope with grieving. A lack of emotional support systems may be having your family and friends a thousand kilometers away or it may be that someone is unable to talk on a feeling level with friends.
Age and gender are two other indicators of suicidal behaviour. For women the mid-forties are more critical; and for men the late teens and early twenties and the mid sixties. At these ages women and men are dealing with meaning of life issues, what is the purpose of my life? what are my roles? For women being an active mother often ends in the mid-forties. If the marriage is not good, it becomes more evident. A woman in her mid forties may be dealing with meaning of life issues and with losing support systems by the loss of the close support of her children and the realization of the lack of support from her husband.
Understanding indicators of suicide gives clues on how to cope with thoughts of suicide. Having friends and family who you can talk with on a deep level is vital. Having a God who walks with you is also vital. Both the exterior and interior relationships need to be developed. With the support of faith, friends and family gets a person through many terrible struggles. They can be the basis of hope.
As personal problems heal the thoughts about suicide diminish. If you can not heal by yourself, get some help. Talk to either your priest or ask your family doctor to refer you to someone who is a counselor. Remember some suicidal tendencies are medical i.e. if your brain does not have certain chemicals you will develop suicidal behaviour and drug therapy is required.
If you think someone is suicidal, ask him or her about friends and family whether they can talk with them. If they can't, be concerned. Find out what personal problems there are; the more there are the more you should be concerned. Ask them if they want to hurt themselves or commit suicide. If they are, they will answer yes. Ask them how they plan to do it. If they have a developed plan and if the other factors are present hit the panic button.
First aid for suicide is to take away the means of suicide such as confiscating pills or a rifle. Make sure that the person has someone to stay with; that he or she is not alone. In extreme cases take the person to the emergency department at the hospital or call 911. The police can take the person to a medical doctor and who can have them kept in hospital for a psychiatric assessment. The suicidal person will not like what you do, but preserving his or her life is more important than being the object of his or her anger.
Use of the term first aid means initial action. If a person attempts suicide there is something serious which needs to be healed. Professional follow-up care is required. Make sure that the person goes for counseling, even to the point of booking an appointment and talking him or her to the appointment.
Remember talk of suicide is one of the two cases where the seal of confession does not apply, the other is when someone is intending to commit murder.