It will be clear from the above that preventing suicide can be difficult. However, almost anyone who is close to or connected with a suicide victim blames themselves to some extent, feels guilty and wonders what they could have done to prevent it. Some ideas for prevention have been mentioned above. Here are some more that have been found to work.
• If someone you know is depressed, watch out for suicidal signs.
Most successful suicides have been planning it for some time. They often give subtle clues like tidying up their desk, ensuring that their papers are in order, giving away significant objects to special people, and so on.
Do not believe the dangerous old wives’ tale that if a person talks about suicide it means he or she will never actually do it. This is not true-as thousands of distraught families can testify. Eighty per cent of successful suicides have talked about it before, sometimes even to their doctors. Talk about suicide should always be taken seriously. Seek medical help.
• Someone who has tried to kill themselves before is at special risk, so be very much more aware of the danger. It has been estimated that 2 million Americans who are alive today have tried to kill themselves. This is a vast pool of potential suicides.
• Be aware of how people do it so you can protect those around you as far as possible. In the UK the vast majority of suicides occur with drugs; in the US guns feature prominently. Men by and large go for more bravado whilst women nearly always take tablets.
Most suicides occur in the spring (six months after the most common month for the onset of depression-September). May is the peak month for suicides. Many people also commit suicide near Christmas. Traditionally, Monday has been a prominent day for suicides-possibly something to do with the Monday Blues. Though treatment for depression can prevent suicide, the four months after release from hospital are the most dangerous period for potentially suicidal people. They feel more active now that their depression is better, and have the energy to kill themselves. Most people commit suicide at home, mainly in the morning.
The Samaritans, a nationwide telephone help organisation for those in crisis, has probably been responsible for preventing more suicides than anything else. People who feel depressed can talk to a compassionate, yet disinterested, person down the telephone line, and this undoubtedly stops many from actively doing anything. The telephone number is in the local directory and they can be phoned twenty-four hours a day.
Researchers have tried to develop blood tests that could predict a suicidal tendency in ‘at risk’ populations but these efforts have not met with much success. Several studies have linked the severity of depression with the urine output of various natural body steroids and others have looked at blood changes. Unfortunately, there are no predictive tests available yet.
• Treating depression seriously and well is clearly the best overall practical preventive measure against suicide.