The Depressive Behaviours that Could Warn of a Suicide Attempt

The Depressive Behaviours that Could Warn of a Suicide Attempt

The fallout from suicide is catastrophic. For every life that falls to the hopelessness and darkness of depression, there are the lives of those who love them that are changed forever.

Depression isn’t a choice between living and letting go. It’s what happens when someone feels there are no choices left. It’s impossible to understand for those who have never lived under the black cloud of depression. Similarly, for those contemplating suicide, it’s impossible to understand the devastation they will leave behind, should they go.

As much as we might understand that on an intellectual level, when you’re the one grieving the loss of a life lost to suicide, the depth and unpredictability of emotion that embeds itself into the inner walls of you is likely to be unspeakable – grief, confusion, guilt, anger, fear – sometimes insane, unfathomable anger – and the desperate longing to go back to that point and make one thing different. Catastrophic.

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 800,000 people commit suicide every year. 20 times that number attempt to end their life. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year olds. In the UK it is the leading cause of death for men under age 35.

Recently a large-scale international study, the BRIDGE-II-MIX, set out to identify whether or not there were patterns of behaviour that were often seen in people who were about to attempt suicide. There were. Let’s talk about them.

  • 40% of all depressed people who attempted suicide had a ‘mixed’ depression rather than just depression. This is where someone shows symptoms of depression such as fatigue, despair, hopelessness, indifference, apathy but at the same time shows some of the polar symptoms of mania or excitation, such as increased energy or a decreased need for sleep, elevated mood, faster speech, less inhibited, racing thoughts. The lesson is not to be fooled if someone you care about has depression and suddenly seems to be happier, or to have more energy than usual. Keep a closer eye on them, stay with them or seek professional support.
  • If a depressed person shows any of the following, their risk of suicide is at least 50% higher:

    >>  risky behaviour (such as driving recklessly, promiscuous behaviour);

    >>  psychomotor agitation (such as pacing around a room, wringing their hands together, taking off clothing and putting it back on) 

    >>  acting impulsively (acting on a whim, behaving without a lot of thought for the consequences).

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, there is help available. Nobody has to do this alone. Depression is a chemical imbalance and although a depressed mind can run a pretty convincing argument that the hopelessness somebody feels is a hopelessly permanent state, it’s not. Know that there is help available.

If you or someone you love is struggling, here are some important numbers. There will be people on the other end of the phone, or sometimes the internet, who will understand exactly how you’re feeling, and who can help you to find a way through:

If you live in Australia:

If you live in the US:

If you live in the UK:

International suicide hotline:

  • Befrienders (Enter your country to find an emotional support helpline)

8 Comments

C

Depression has dragged me by the hair and thrown me into pits of needles. I am one of the lucky ones: One who has tried and failed at ending life. Believe it or not, failing made me even more depressed. I mean, who can’t live OR die well?? I have a ready smile and hope for the future..it’s the day to day surviving that trips me up. Mental illness is no shit joke. It’s not feeling sorry for yourself. It’s not being lazy. It’s not playing the victim. Mental illness is a monster that only you can see and that you can never explain. There is never anyone to call, because everyone wants to tell you it will be okay. It will not be okay. It will never be okay. But ….. if you’re lucky, you wake up again and again and again and even when you are sad to wake up, it forces you to be strong for one more day. One day, plus another day, plus another….eventually it equals a full life. This is my aim. Live a full life!

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Hey Sigmund

You are a fighter and you are meant to be here. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s important, so are you, and I imagine there will be many people who read it who feel less alone because of it. Keep working towards living your full life. You deserve it.

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Ewa

Please tell me, is suicide something always assigned to depression or is there a risk that a man with anxiety may also kill himself? I’m worried about my brother who has a social phobia. Or maybe there is a lower possibility of commiting a suicide among people with anxiety disorders? I have anxiety too but I’ve never wanted to commit a suicide.

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Hey Sigmund

There are other reasons aside from depression that people might commit suicide. If you’re concerned about your brother, I would strongly encourage you to call a suicide helpline and information line in your country for information and advice on what to do. Here is a link that will help you find the suicide information and help line in your country http://www.befrienders.org.

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Butterfliesflytoo

Suicide is a topic that so many people tip-toe around. Its important that we share our stories and show others that they are not alone; whether that be as a person contimplating suicide or those around them.

Statistics dont lie. It IS a leading cause of death and its one that, as a society, we should be able to decrease.

Its important, however, that we remember the things mentioned in this article are not like boxes to be ticked on an assesment sheet. They are merely things that we shouldnt overlook or misinterpret. I think it is also important that we dont catagorise people as ‘not likely to carry through with it’, ‘just looking for attention’ or ‘bound to kill themselves sometime’. What i mean is, every thought or contemplation of suicide should be taken EQUALLY serious. That is, VERY serious. No matter the age, the circumstances or the number of previous contemplations. Just like ALL self-harm should be taken equally serious, suicidal thoughts should also be taken equally snd very serious as things can VERY quickly go VERY wrong.

Bev, Kim, thank you for sharing your experiences. Its like Hey Sigmond said, “You could never know the difference you could be making to someone’s life.”

Wishing you sll the best
X

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Bev

11 years ago today, one of my best guy friends at work was found after committing suicide. He talked to a bunch of people at work for 4 years about committing suicide. He was on antidepressants but none of us really took him seriously because he had so much going for him. I had bailed him out of jail on the late evening on the 12th for a domestic abuse issue. We talked afterwards and I asked him not to do anything irrational and he said he wouldn’t–I didn’t want to put it out there about suicide. The day the police found him, my work brought in a counselor. He said that whenever someone talks about suicide and then doesn’t act on it, it is still always in the back of his/her mind. We were informed that suicide happens when the person feels he/she has lost everything. Because of the domestic abuse charge, he thought he lost his kids and he had already lost his marriage. I do not feel responsible for his death, but I have always felt regrets about what else I could have done. After his death, I have learned so much more about suicide and the signs of suicide. Thank you for your article.

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Kim

Thank you for this article on things to watch for on someone with depression. My daughter attempted suicide a few weeks ago & took us all for surprise because we didn’t see any “signs”. These signs you list were nothing we were looking for, the upbeat & energy she presented with just before actually had us thinking just the opposite. We thought she was actually better. This is such an important tool to learn for the future. Thankfully my daughter is physically ok now & had great support. We are working together to help her with her depression & any information that may prevent it from ever happening again is greatly appreciated. I will do anything for my beautiful daughter.

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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