Nine years ago, I was in a very different place. A dark one. With my depression deepening and feeling more isolated than ever, thoughts of ending my own life became frequent. To me, it felt like the best option – the only option.
On the outside, I tried to keep up appearances. I went to all my classes, put on a brave face at church, and did my best not to raise any red flags. During sessions with my psychologist, I nodded solemnly and assured her I was doing okay. I didn’t tell her that I cried myself to sleep most nights, or that there was a voice in my head telling me it’d be better for everyone if I weren’t around.
Now, almost a decade later, I’m so grateful for the people in my life back then who noticed something was wrong and stepped in to help. I don’t know if I’d be here today had it not been for their courage to ask the tough questions, or their patience to sit with me through the painful times.
This year on World Suicide Prevention Day, my prayer is that by reading the following tips, you’ll feel better equipped to support the people in your life who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and it also doesn’t guarantee things will change, but I hope it’s a starting point.
1. Know the Signs
There’s a common misconception that someone who’s feeling suicidal will be easy to spot. But a lot of the time, it’s not so obvious. When I was struggling with suicidal ideation, I still went through the motions. I didn’t start wearing dark eyeliner, or listening to sad music, or talking about death—I was still the girl who showed up to youth group, played in the worship band, and smiled my way through school. So to spot someone who might be struggling, you need to know what to look for. Some risk factors or signs of possible suicidal ideation include:
Existing mental health struggles
Being socially isolated
Reckless behaviour (more spontaneous than usual, spending money, doing things on impulse, etc.)
A recent loss or form of grief (losing a friend or family member, going through a breakup, etc.)
Prefering to be alone; withdrawing from friends and activities
Expressing feelings of shame or hopelessness
Loss of energy, feeling tired all the time
Changes in appetite and eating habits
No longer putting in effort towards school, work, or hobbies
Signs of self-harm
Even though I did my best to keep up the facade that I was okay, there were subtle things that changed which helped my parents recognise something was wrong. I was tired all the time, and didn’t have energy to do the things I used to enjoy. I stopped going outside and exercising, and my eating habits became unhealthy. I would decline social invitations and preferred to be alone in my room. Any of these things in isolation might sound like normal teenage behaviour, but together, they raised alarm bells for the people who knew me.