“Don’t wait for the storm to pass, learn to dance in the rain.” – Vivian Greene
This quote highlights the essence of helping oneself and learning ways to persevere through suicidal thoughts. Suicide is often contemplated by people facing adversities and what seem to be insurmountable situations. There are ways in which people can learn to help themselves ‘actively’.
Manoj, a 26-year old IT professional, is a sincere worker who is appreciated by colleagues and bosses for his efficiency. Recently, he found it difficult to cope with work, felt tired most of the time, had reduced concentration and was not able to sleep properly. His father, an excessive alcohol drinker, would often fight with his mother. Manoj was increasingly worried about his father’s drinking problem, his mother’s health and the family’s finances. Consequently, he started having thoughts of ending his life.
Manoj had had similar suicidal thoughts in college after failing his second semester exams. Back then, Manoj had shared these suicidal thoughts with his roommate Ravi, and had felt immensely relieved. At that time, Manoj had been in his college cricket team and had needed to attend practice for an upcoming tournament. His thoughts had decreased as he started talking to Ravi and focusing on cricket. His team won the cricket tournament, and he also started studying with Ravi to clear his exams. The thoughts of suicide completely went away.
Recalling how he overcame these thoughts during his college years, Manoj decided to put the same strategy to use. He phoned Ravi and started exercising regularly. Manoj found his distress as well as the intensity of suicidal thoughts decreasing. His performance at work improved as well. Although worries about his family persisted, the absence of suicidal thoughts helped Manoj make future plans with support from Ravi, and from superiors at work.
One in three people think of suicide at some time in their lives. It’s a common yet disturbing experience, often difficult to share. People don’t talk about it because they wrongly assume that talking may only intensify the thoughts or upset near and dear ones. However, people who do share these thoughts find talking liberating and cathartic. Sharing thoughts of self-harm and suicide with any person can alleviate it to a great extent.
Suicidal thoughts also tend to be repetitive and particularly intense when a person is alone or not busy. Spending time with close family or friends and keeping onself busy with activities can reduce both the intensity and frequency of suicidal thoughts. One could start enjoyable activities, a new hobby or resume an old hobby. People have said that activities itself provide a sense of wellbeing, thereby reducing suicidal thoughts.
Suicidal thoughts become less when one consciously makes an effort to remember how they overcame similar situations in the past, and what self-help tasks helped in reducing such thoughts. Manoj used his past experience to overcome his current situation. He was well aware that despite him being overwhelmed in the past, he had persevered and was able to move on to positive experience, which enhanced his self-belief.
Suicidal thoughts tend to be more intense at a certain time of the day, and may recur from several times a day to every few days or months. Making a safety plan to overcome these thoughts is very useful, with stepwise options to seek help in time of need. Writing this down makes it easily accessible, starting with:
Writing down reasons to live (aspirations, future plans, names of persons you care for immensely, past positive experiences)
Engaging in specific activities that distract you from such thoughts
Making an arrangement to contact a trusted person (confidante) or talking to them regularly
Having contact numbers of a suicide helpline or counselor.
Sharing this plan with someone you trust while keeping a copy with yourself, can help activate the plan anywhere and anytime.
People who experience suicidal thoughts actually want to be relieved of their distress. Self- help strategies greatly help in reducing suicidal thoughts and alleviating distress. If you feel that thoughts of suicide persist despite these efforts, feel free to get in touch with a mental health expert. Even your local general physician can help.
Dr V Senthil Kumar Reddi is associate professor, department of psychiatry, NIMHANS.
For more information, call the Nimhans Centre for Well Being (NCWB) at +919480829670/ (080) 2668594 between 9 am and 4:30 pm.