When we hear the word ‘suicide’, we all experience a range of different emotions –sadness, hopelessness, loss, confusion, etc. This is not an easy topic to discuss, but a necessary one. Many people have been affected by a loved one being suicidal, having either attempted, or succeeded, to take their own lives.

For some, suicidality could be something that you have struggled with personally, struggle with now, or you might know somebody who struggles with it. By attempting to talk about this crucial topic, which is not discussed nearly enough, you may learn something or understand yourself or someone else a bit better.


1. Definitions


When someone dies due to injury or harm caused by themselves, with the intention to end their own life.

Suicide attempt

When someone attempts to end their own life, harming or injuring themselves in the process.

Suicide ideation

When an individual contemplates ending their own life, or makes plans to do so.


2. Symptoms (warning signs)

Being suicidal is usually a symptom of another mental struggle. Not every individual with depression or anxiety (or other mental disorders) is suicidal. The following symptoms could be an indication that someone is thinking about ending their own life:

  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and unworthiness
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of support structures
  • Depression, loss, loneliness
  • “I want to die” expressions (These expressions vary, but could be an indication that an individual is contemplating suicide: “I want to end it all”, “no one would miss me if I am not here anymore”, “I wish I could die”, “I wonder if people will realise that I am not here anymore”)
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Withdrawal from people and activities they love
  • Cannot think clearly or make decisions
  • Struggling to eat, sleep or work/study
  • Struggling to envisage a future, or speaks of the future as if it does not exist
  • Behavioural changes can include:
    • Giving away prized possessions
    • Closing bank accounts
    • Terminating studies/subjects without an explanation
    • Packing up rooms/apartments


Although these are typical symptoms of someone who might be at risk of committing suicide, they are not definite indications. It is important to note that these symptoms could be due to other reasons as well, and the entire context should be taken into consideration.


3. Why me?


Suicide is one of the leading causes of death, and can affect anyone at any time.

About a third of suicides occur between the ages of 20 and 39.
People sometimes struggle to get the mental health treatment that they need due to various reasons.


Common triggers or risk factors:

  • Recent loss (of a loved one, a job, an income/livelihood, a relationship, a pet)
  • Major disappointment (failed exams, missed job promotions)
  • Change in circumstances (adjustment to university / parental divorce, change in friendship circles)
  • Mental disorder or physical illness/injury
  • Suicide of a family member, friend or significant other
  • Financial and/or legal problems
  • Traumatic experience such as rape, assault, mugging, etc.


4. Solutions or Techniques

The GLAD technique can help you or your loved one find meaning if you are struggling to do so. For each of the letters listed below, write down one moment or occurrence per day that corresponds with the instruction. Do this for a specific day or week.

Grateful (such as being alive, a friend, being able to study)

Learned (such as something you learned in class, something you learned about yourself, a new skill)

Achieved (such as washing the dishes, went to your 8 a.m. class, finished an assignment)

Delight (such as coffee with a friend, a funny movie, walking down Lover’s Lane)

Things you can try at home:

  • Social interaction and identification of social support
  • Journaling (externalising of feelings)
  • Engagement in activities that add meaning to life
  • Exercise and healthy diet
  • Debunk stigmas by reading about suicide

It is very important to reach out and get help when you have thoughts of suicide. Or ask for help when a loved one is going through this.


5. How to assist a friend or a family member

  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don't debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Avoid lecturing on the value of life.
  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • Don't dare him/her to do it.
  • Don't act shocked. This will put distance between you.
  • Don't be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available, but do not offer casual reassurance.
  • Ask if you may contact a family member.
  • Don’t leave them alone. Get help from persons specialising in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
  • If necessary, get in touch with the police.
  • Don’t involve religion.
  • Don’t try to save someone, rather facilitate the situation.
  • Never make promises.
  • Never guarantee that everything will be okay, rather acknowledge that you can see everything is not okay at this moment.
  • Don’t try to reason with guilt, or ask them about the hurt they will cause for the people left behind.


6. Videos to watch

Teen Suicide Prevention:




National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. (NICE). (2020). Mental health and Wellbeing. Retrieved from

National Institute of Mental Health. (NIMH). (2019). Suicide. Retrieved from

SADAG. (n.a). Do You Know Someone Who May Be Suicidal? Retrieved from

World Health Organisation. (WHO). (2018). A community engagement toolkit. Retrieved from


Compiled by Monique Roberts (Intern Psychologist 2019). Adapted by Karen Pretorius (Counselling Psychologist at Thuso1777, Potchefstroom Campus)

July 2020