By Edy Nathan and Anna Walsh
The holidays are a time to be with family and friends, however, while celebrations are taking place around the globe, countless clinically depressed men, women and adolescents are contemplating suicide in the New Year.
Many are surprised to learn that suicide rates peak in the Spring and Summer. The warm-up to suicide begins around the holidays, creating an emotional trigger point, amplified by holiday celebrations and talk of anticipated new outcomes.
New York psychotherapist Edy Nathan specializes in grief and trauma. She says, suicidal behavior is not necessarily crazy behavior. It is a crying out for help when it seems that there is none. Suicide prevention is possible. A life worth living can be created regardless of risk factors. Know the signs before a loved one is lost to suicide, and for immediate help reach out to 911, a local suicide help line, or go to the nearest hospital.
Extended time with loved ones over the holidays presents an opportunity to pay attention to loved ones, and notice behaviors that may be a sign of suicidal thoughts. Five warning signs are below. When professional help is sought out, there is potential for emotional and physical pain to subside. With the right help, the desire for suicide can be overcome.
1. Behavior: These are observable changes in the person. But assessment on behavioral traits alone can be contradictory. The behavior displayed can be calm and more peaceful than would be expected after a loss, trauma or depressive episode. Yet, aggression, often combined with sudden, uncontrolled outbursts is also a signal. Other behavioral traits to observe include general apathy, selling personal items, accruing more credit card debt, a disinterest in sex, and preoccupation with death.
2. Verbal: If you’re listening carefully, the verbal cues are apparent: “I don’t want to live anymore,” “Life is too hard,” “The pain is overwhelming so it’s better to end it all.” If you’re hearing these kinds of statements, and hearing them more than once or twice, there’s a good chance that suicidal thoughts are prevalent. Though some verbal cues are direct, others may be veiled. Take what you hear seriously and read between the lines especially if you’ve got personal knowledge of previous depressive episodes. Don’t go blind or deaf or dumb: Believe what is often too hard to hear or conceptualize.
3. Mood: Clinical depression saps energy, focus and desire. Watch for signs of emotional shifts: helplessness, isolation, pessimism, hopelessness, and a deep sadness. This is a short list of some of the emotional hallmarks of depression. Mood is affected also by physical pain, low self-esteem, concern about what others think or feel, and anxiety. When there seems to be an absence of positive options to shift the debilitating struggle, suicide offers a way to stop the pain.
4. Physical Care: Notice differences in self-care and hygiene—Clothes may be unkempt or dirty, and general appearance is often neglected. Sleeping and eating patterns are different than before. Any physical changes lasting more than two weeks may be a call for action. These are non-verbal warning signs.
5. Risk Contributors: Past history of depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts are high risk factors for a successful suicide. Drug use, family history of mental disorders and suicide, alcoholism, and serious or chronic health issues also contribute to suicide risk.
Edy Nathan, MA, LCSWR, is a licensed therapist, AASECT certified sex therapist, hypnotherapist and certified EMDR practitioner with more than 20 years of experience. She has degrees from New York University and Fordham University, with post-graduate training at the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy. For two seasons in 2010, she was the psychotherapist on the A&E series Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal.