The coronavirus is having long lasting effects on all of our lives. If you can tell me that you haven’t had a “low” day during these past weeks then I am sorry, but I personally don’t believe you. Across the board emotionally intense days of highs and lows, a.k.a. The COVID Rollercoaster, have been common. Sudden bursts of tears, feelings of anxiety and depression, a lasting sadness and lethargy, fear of the outside, fear of the future, fear of financial insecurity, loneliness, isolation from friends and family, all of these and more. If you have been feeling these things then please understand you are not by any means on your own. Everyone has had these feelings and thoughts, but tragically for some people these emotions have moved them to take their own lives. The current rate of suicide in Majorca is one person killing themselves every four days, with a reported twenty cases daily of attempted suicide. I personally know of a friend of mine who prevented a stranger from taking her own life on the very first day of lockdown when he stopped her from jumping off a bridge onto the Via Cintura in Palma. An ambulance was called and the young woman was taken to safety. That was day one, seventy days ago. The official numbers have not yet been released, but if they have followed the trend prior to the quarantine then 18 people have taken their own lives in the Balearics, and there have been 1400 attempts. The first unnatural cause of death in Spain is suicide, and amongst young people between 15 and 29 years old it is the second cause of death after cancer. We are facing a second crisis, that of a pandemic of Mental Illness. Unfortunately not enough is said about this and we must start to talk more openly with each other in order to try to flatten this new curve.
What drives so many individuals to take their own lives? To those who are not in the grips of suicidal depression and despair, it’s difficult to understand. Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. Blinded by feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness, and isolation, a suicidal person can’t see any way of finding relief except through death. But despite their desire for the pain to stop, most suicidal people are deeply conflicted about ending their own lives. They wish there was an alternative to suicide, but they just can’t see one.
There are resources available in the Balearics for people who are presenting with suicidal thoughts and actions. There are Suicide Prevention and Care Units in Inca, Son Llàtzer and Son Espases, and in the short and medium term at the Manacor, Minorca and Eivissa hospital centers, as well as support for families through a recently created Associació de Familiars i Amics Supervivents per Suïcidi de Balears (AFASIB). The Suicide Prevention and Care Units can intervene in a crisis when an attempt to kill oneself has happened. But in an ideal world we should be able to identify the threat to life earlier and find ways to get help for that individual as soon as possible. I spoke to Martin Bell, a local counsellor, about what we can do if we are concerned about someone we know. “Take any suicidal talk or behaviour seriously. It’s not just a warning sign that the person is thinking about suicide—it’s a cry for help which should not be ignored.”
Most suicidal individuals give warning signs or signals of their intentions. Major warning signs for suicide include talking about killing or harming oneself, talking or writing a lot about death or dying, and seeking out things that could be used in a suicide attempt. These signals are even more dangerous if the person has a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder, suffers from alcohol dependence, has previously attempted suicide, or has a family history of suicide. A more subtle but equally dangerous warning sign of suicide is hopelessness. Studies have found that hopelessness is a strong predictor of suicide. People who feel hopeless may talk about “unbearable” feelings, predict a bleak future, and state that they have nothing to look forward to.
Other warning signs that point to a suicidal mind frame include dramatic mood swings or sudden personality changes, such as switching from outgoing to withdrawn or well-behaved to rebellious. A suicidal person may also lose interest in day-to-day activities, neglect his or her appearance, and show big changes in eating or sleeping habits. The person may go about getting their affairs in order, making a will, giving away prized possessions or making arrangements for family members. They may say goodbye, they may make unusual or unexpected visits or calls to family and friends or seem to be saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again. They may withdraw from others or show self-destructive behavior with increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving, or unsafe sex. They may start taking unnecessary risks as if they have a “death wish. Or they may show a sudden sense of calm.
Suicide prevention: Speak up if you’re worried
If you spot the warning signs of suicide in someone you care about, you may wonder if it’s a good idea to say anything. What if you’re wrong? What if the person gets angry? In such situations, it’s natural to feel uncomfortable or afraid. But anyone who talks about suicide or shows other warning signs needs immediate help—the sooner the better. Talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal thoughts and feelings can be extremely difficult for anyone. But if you’re unsure whether someone is suicidal, the best way to find out is to ask. You can’t make a person suicidal by showing that you care. In fact, giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings, and may prevent a suicide attempt.
When talking to a suicidal person DO:
· Be yourself. Let the person know you care, that they are not alone. Finding the right words are not nearly as important as showing your concern.
· Listen. Let your friend or loved one vent and unload their feelings. No matter how negative the conversation seems, the fact that it is taking place is a positive sign.
· Be sympathetic and non-judgmental. The suicidal person is doing the right thing by talking about their feelings, no matter how difficult it may be to hear.
· Offer hope. Reassure your loved one that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that their life is important to you.
· Take the person seriously. If a suicidal person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask if they’re having thoughts of suicide. You’re allowing them to share their pain with you, not putting ideas in their head.
· Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: “You have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt your family,” or “Just snap out of it.”
· Act shocked, lecture on the value of life, or argue that suicide is wrong.
· Promise confidentiality or be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.
· Offer ways to fix your loved one’s problems, give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.
· Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone else’s depression. Your friend or loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.
Respond quickly in a crisis
If a friend or family member tells you that he or she is thinking about death or suicide, it’s important to evaluate the immediate danger the person is in. If a suicide attempt seems imminent, call 112, or take the person to a doctor or psychologist or the hospital.
Offer help and support
Let your loved one know that they are not alone and that you care. Don’t take responsibility, however, for healing them. You can offer support, but you can’t make a suicidal person get better. It takes a lot of courage to help someone who is suicidal. Witnessing a loved one dealing with thoughts about ending his or her own life can stir up many difficult emotions. As you’re helping a suicidal person, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Find someone that you trust—a friend, family member, clergyman, or counselor—to talk to about your feelings and get support of your own.
To help a suicidal person
Seek professional intervention. Call a crisis line such as the Samaritans in Spain (number below) for advice and referrals. Encourage the person to see a mental health professional, help locate a treatment facility, or take them to a doctor’s appointment. Follow-up on treatment. If the doctor prescribes medication, make sure your friend or loved one takes it as directed. Be aware of possible side effects and be sure to notify the doctor if the person seems to be getting worse. It often takes time and persistence to find the medication or therapy that’s right for a particular person.
Be proactive. Those contemplating suicide often don’t believe they can be helped, so you will have to be more proactive at offering assistance. Saying, “Call me if you need anything” is too vague. Don’t wait for the person to call you or even to return your calls. Drop by, call again, invite the person out.
Encourage positive lifestyle changes: such as a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, and getting out in the sun or into nature for at least 30 minutes each day. Exercise is also extremely important as it releases endorphins, relieves stress, and promotes emotional well-being.
Continue your support over the long haul. Even after the immediate suicidal crisis has passed, stay in touch with the person, periodically checking in or dropping by. Your support is vital, but make sure you have support as well.
· There is a Samaritans group in Spain for English speaking people.
· Call FREEPHONE 900 525 100 between 10am and 10pm to talk to a trained listener in total confidence or visit www.samaritansinspain.com.
· For help with understanding your feelings and others, this psychologist is highly recommended, visit: www.facebook.com/emmakennytv.
· For local support join www.facebook.com/groups/OpenMindMallorca which is run by Martin Bell, a Majorca based counsellor working within the expat community.
· For general companionship join www.facebook.com/groups/MajorcaMallorca.
· For the family support group visit www.afasib.es and www.apsas.org
· Source information from www.helpguide.org
· Statistics source information from the Ultima Hora, 18.5.2020, U. Urbieta