When your Partner is Suicidal
An attempted suicide is often not the final step to oblivion for a depressed person – it could be a cry for help, an attempt to get others notice his/her pain before it becomes bearable and to die is the only way out. But to a partner these repeated attempts at suicide are extremely traumatic. Though, ideally an emotionally healthy partner is the best bet for a truly fulfilling relationship, if your partner develops extreme depression over time or you are already into a relationship and this partner means more to you than anything else, here are some ways to cope with a partner who is suicidal.
Look for warning signs
Your partner’s suicide attempt can seem to come suddenly, without warning, and you along with other family and friends may feel mystified about why your partner tried to take, their own life. Yet, it is likely that the person’s suicidal feelings have developed over a long period of time, without others being aware of them. The person may have found it hard to talk about these feelings, perceiving them as forbidden and therefore disguised them. Some of the general signs which can put you up to the fact that all is not well with your partner are loss of self-esteem, isolation and hopelessness, especially in the aftermath of a major upsetting event like a job loss, failing exams or death of someone very close. And yet not everyone who feels despair starts thinking about taking the final step. If your partner is getting suicidal, some specific pointers could be sleep problems where there used to be none, taking less care of themselves like eating badly or not caring what they look like and a marked change of behavior. Someone may appear to be calm and at peace for the first time or, more usually, may be withdrawn and have difficulty communicating. Also watch out if your partner suddenly talks about making out a will or taking out life insurance.
Talking about suicide is another sign that your partner could be thinking of suicide. It's a myth that people who talk about suicide don't go through with it. In fact, most people who have taken their own lives have spoken about it to someone. And indeed, If your partner has thought about suicide in the past, however vaguely or rarely, he/she is more likely to resort to it as a means of coping when life becomes stressful.
Is your partner at risk
Mental health experts have pointed out that some people are more at risk of taking their own lives than others. The underlying causes of suicidal feelings are likely to be a complex mix of personal and social factors: pressures and hurts may be building for some time and in the final lap, a run of problems or bad luck may prove overwhelming. Sometimes a sudden personal crisis like job loss or divorce may trigger the final step but this is rarely the real cause. Depression and even a sense of despair can take years to build up, so suicidal feelings often develop gradually.
People with mental health problems make one of the biggest groups of people with suicidal feelings. These are people with serious mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia usually suffer from depression. This when combined with a lack of social support and a sense of hopelessness about the future, can often lead someone with a serious mental health problem to take their own life. Less common is the situation when delusional ideas among schizophrenic or psychotic patients contribute to suicidal thoughts for instance they may hear voices urging them to kill themselves. Alternately if your partner has been suffering from a long painful physical illness for which there is no cure, he/she has greater chances of becoming depressed, and this, in turn, makes them more prone to suicidal feelings. People with a history of physical or sexual abuse, those who abuse alcohol and drugs and those in poor social situations like joblessness or homelessness are at a greater risk of committing suicide. If you spot signs of suicidal behavior in your partner, look at your relationship issues too. Disturbed family relationships, a romantic relationship or marriage coming apart are sometimes in the background when someone attempts suicide. A number of people kill themselves after a serious argument with a partner. Again, young gay, lesbian and transgender people, possibly because of the discrimination they face in our society. Finally men are more likely to take their own lives than women, according to statistics provided by the US Centers for Disease Control1. The reason for this is not certain. It may be partly because men are less inclined to be open about their feelings.
Women tend to talk more about their problems, and may therefore get help more often.
How you can help
The suicidal person is fighting his/her own demons and can use all the help they get, especially from the one they love. So let your partner know that he/she can depend upon your emotional support whenever they need it. Also get your partner to talk about what makes them happy, sad, anxious or hopeful of the future. Sometimes people simply get down when they cannot find anyone to share their thoughts and feelings. So encourage your love interest to talk to you and let them know that you are open to anything that they have to say. Communicate love and acceptance in whatever way you possibly can. This could include a loving touch or hug, or gentle encouragement through a card or meaningful gift. Also try to get them out of a rut. One of the major symptoms of extreme depression is loss of interest in any happy or positive event and an unwillingness to even carry on with the basic routine of everyday living. They may not want to stir out of bed all day or get up from the couch. In such situations, invite your partner to come along for a walk with you in the neighborhood park or do something fun like bowling or watching a concert. Sometimes you might meet with refusal from your partner or only half-hearted consent from them, but don’t let that prevent you from trying again since when they come out of their depressive phase, they will be grateful that you were there for them at that time.
Even when your partner someone appears to be absolutely determined to take their own life, it is important to talk to them and examine every possible option and source of support. Encourage the person look at options to see if there are other ways of resolving their problems. Discussing strategies for seeking help and creating a ‘personal support list’ is a useful way of reviewing options with the person you are concerned about. The list may include the contact details of family and friends, helplines, organizations and professionals available for support. Encourage the person to keep this list by the phone and to agree to call someone when they are feeling suicidal.
Ultimately though it is crucial that your partner seeks professional help. The kind and extent of despair that leads to repeated suicidal attempts is usually complex and doesn’t vanish quickly. Therefore, it is important to encourage someone who is feeling suicidal to get some outside support. Their GP is a good starting-point. He or she can arrange for the person to get professional help, such as psychotherapy or counseling, and may prescribe antidepressants, if appropriate. In fact counseling can be a good idea for you too - if you are in a close relationship with someone who has suicidal thoughts, you may feel that what is going on for the suicidal person is your fault. You may feel guilty, upset, rejected or angry with the person who wants to end his or her life. Accepting your own feelings about a suicidal partner can be difficult. Therefore, don’t be afraid to ask for help – whether from informal sources like mature and reliable fries or professional ones like a therapist - to deal with the emotions you may be experiencing.
Also make a note of organizations that offer emergency helplines for people who are feeling suicidal as well as their caregivers. Some organizations may offer ongoing support, self-help groups, general advice and information. Finally if you feel that your partner is in real danger of suicide, has a mental health problem and will not approach anyone for help, you may want to think about contacting social services. Though this is a heavy responsibility as it can lead your partner getting detained by social services, it may just be the step that saved his/her life.