No Warning Signs. Why we Can’t wait for: Are you Ok?


Article By: Luke Foster, Psychologist

We occasionally hear from people who have lost someone to suicide that “they were the last person we ever would have suspected to take their own life”, and that there were simply NO warning signs. And you know what, that might be the case in some instances – I’ll expand on this in a moment.

Despite the content that follows in this article, at LIVIN we still stand by the notion that there are usually a number of warning signs and symptoms that could indicate that someone might be struggling and might be at risk of suicide, whether these are physical, behavioural, emotional changes or verbal cues.

Check out this article for more information on warning signs and symptoms and how you can help someone who might be demonstrating some or many of those listed: R U OK? How to be prepared for the answer 

We still firmly believe that one of the most important things when it comes to warning signs and symptoms is understanding your family, mates, co-workers, and the people you spend time with well. A change, ANY CHANGE from what is normal behaviour for them is often the first sign that they might be struggling. For example, someone who loves eating breakfast in the morning, might turn down food – a subtle warning sign, but an invitation for you to check in. Someone who is usually very responsive to text messages mightn’t be texting you back as regularly as usual – a subtle warning sign, but an invitation for you to check in. You get the point.

BACK TO TODAY'S TOPIC - 'THERE WERE NO WARNING SIGNS!' 

Suicide almost always raises a mass of confusion (suicide is complex and typically multifaceted), is surrounded by mystery and questions among family members, friends and co-workers left behind. “What did I miss?” “What could I have done?” Unfortunately, in some cases, the answers are nothing and nothing. Trust me, writing that as a psychologist is extremely difficult and might be controversial (I’m prepared for some heat), but I believe it to be true in SOME instances.

Many people who struggle learn to perfect the art of appearing happy and well, and keep what they are feeling or planning to themselves – a secret they vow to never reveal. The paradox is that the people who are most intent on taking their own life know that they have to keep their plans to themselves if they are to carry out the act of suicide, and it’s often the people most in need of help that are the toughest to save.

However, when someone suddenly, and usually it is sudden and impulsive, takes their own life with ‘no’ warning, all we can do is look to each other for social support and connection. Of course, it’s natural to ask, “What did I miss?” What could I have done?” But we should remind ourselves what mental health experts say time and time again – suicide is the kind of death that defies prediction.

The first time you may know of the distress someone close to you was experiencing is when they are no longer alive. There may be no obvious red flags and little forethought when someone takes their own life. Many people who take their own life are more momentarily desperate than overtly depressed or anxious or psychotic etc.

Studies have found that up to 50 percent of people who attempt suicide make the decision to do so within minutes to an hour before they act. They may be depressed, or be experiencing other mental health challenges or have contemplated suicide, but the final decision comes very quickly. There’s often ambivalence (should I or shouldn’t I do this?) up to the moment of death. Speaking with many survivors of suicide attempts, almost all of them have mentioned that as soon as they committed to the act of taking their own life, they were smacked hard with instant regret – “Oh shit, I actually don’t want to die”.

So, what can we do to stop the people who we love and care about from dying too young? Some of the answers are contained within the article linked above. Here it is again for the skim readers amongst us, R U OK? How to be prepared for the answer  

To help prevent people from dying too young, I do think we all have a role to play – knowledge and understanding of warning signs and symptoms, and how you can personally intervene is critical. However, I also think some of the onus falls back on each and every one of YOU – YOU as an individual assuming some responsibility for your actions. I think it is important to understand that at some point we might all be at risk of suicide, ALL OF US, and having our own unique suicide prevention plan is so important, rather than relying on others so much to save us from suicide.

Completing a suicide prevention plan might seem preposterous if you feel bloody brilliant 99% of the time, “why would I need to think about a suicide prevention plan?” (I hear you ask). Having a plan in place for that 1% moment when you feel hopeless, helpless, desperate, significantly pained - when things turn from champagne to shit - could be life saving. This plan may look different for everyone, but please consider and devise one, SOMETHING, JUST IN CASE.

SOME SUICIDE PREVENTION PLANS COULD INCLUDE:

  • Make a list of things that are important to you. These could include the names of your mates, your pet, your family members or a holiday you’ve been planning to go on for yonks. I’ve heard a list like this described as a list outlining reasons for living - things which might not be so obvious or even forgotten about when the fog of crisis overwhelms you. Have this list readily accessible so you can quickly access it if need be.
  • Have the numbers of three reliable people listed in your phone who you can call if you’re suddenly feeling suicidal. These should be reliable people who you trust and feel comfortable talking with about anything and everything.
  • Have Lifeline’s number - 13 11 14 - saved in your phone. Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. They’re a damn good bunch!

We have a Suicide Prevention Plan template for you here

Don’t wait to seek support or for a friend to reach out to you (people aren’t mind readers and also, sadly they can’t be with you 24/7 checking in on you). If you’re thinking about suicide, it’s important that you reach out and ask for help. And you need to ask out aloud.

There’s this term in the dictionary of psychobabble (not a real dictionary by the way, but the following term is real) called the ‘illusion of transparency” - which is the false assumption that our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and needs are really obvious to other people. Let me tell you, they’re not. Again, if you’re struggling don’t wait for help to come to you, ASK FOR IT! YOU CANNOT HEAL WHAT YOU DON’T REVEAL.

One last point, it is something that you hear us say quite a bit… IT AIN’T WEAK TO SPEAK. I know it can be difficult, but if you’re going to ask for help don’t ask over text or email. Email and text can be impersonal. I get it, sometimes there really are no alternatives, in which case use text and email, but research suggests that requests for help in person or over the phone are 30 times more likely to get a YES.

If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. So please, if you have a moment where you are struggling and need help, a moment where you might be thinking about suicide - ASK FOR HELP OUT ALOUD. By doing this, by asking for help you could avoid what this father had to say after losing his son to suicide recently…“If only he had spoken with someone, anyone and asked for help, perhaps he would have awoken the following morning, heard the birds chirping and felt better.”

ASK FOR HELP, OUT ALOUD, remembering that ‘It Ain’t Weak to Speak’.

Suicide Prevention Plan Template.