Dear Life Matters,
I am seriously worried about my brother who has mentioned suicide a couple of times now. He has been depressed, but he is also very irritable and agitated. He actually makes it difficult for us to be nice to him sometimes. I don’t know if he is just mad about something and wanting to upset us or if he might be really suicidal. I don’t know what to do.
I think you should take this serious and that we should always take someone serious when they threaten suicide. If it were in a context of joking, maybe not, but I would still pay attention to see if it is said again or if you notice anything different or unusual about the person. In this case you do.
I think a lot of people tend to blow off these kind of comments because they can’t deal with the thought of it themselves, or it is simply too hard to believe, but suicide is a very real thing and it happens more than it should.
You speak about “us,” so it sounds to me like your brother might be young and you are still living with your parents or family. If I am correct, it might be interesting for you to note that young people in their late adolescence think about suicide more often than any other age group. And it is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 18 and 25. So, as you can see, we really do need to take it seriously.
The good news is that most people who consider suicide or become actively suicidal do not completely want to die. More likely than not they are divided between wanting to live and wanting to die and even then the part of them that wants to die really wants to kill off some kind of inner emotional pain. Examples of this type of pain might be powerful feelings of shame or humiliation, self-hatred, feelings of hopelessness, rejection and not belonging or feeling like a burden to others. If you hear your brother talking like this, you and your family should get him help as soon as possible.
A psychotherapist that knows how to deal with suicide will help him see his divided self and focus on constructive ways to rid him of these powerful negative thoughts. Many suicidal people are helped when caught in time because deep down they do not want to die. We want to appeal to the part of him that wants to live.
Other clues that a person may be suicidal include some that you have already mentioned: agitation, irritability, pushing people away, isolating, low tolerance for frustration, disturbed sleep and alcohol and drug abuse.
People who are most at risk are those who have unresolved trauma, have an alcohol or drug problem, or suffer from a mood disorder or mental health issue. You may suspect any of these things, but a professional should be the one to determine if it is true.
Your brother is lucky to have a sister like you and hopefully a family who takes him seriously and truly cares about how he is feeling. People who are alone and feeling completely isolated are at the most risk for completed suicides.
You might want to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. They can give you more information and help you to find an appropriate therapist for your brother.
Also, bring in your family and any close friends who truly care and are willing to help. You are most likely feeling helpless, but you really can help by building support, supporting the side that wants to live, allowing him to vent his negative feelings so that they have less power over him, but most of all, getting him the professional help he needs. Never agree to keep it a secret or hold it in confidence for someone. That would be very bad for you and for any suicidal person.
I want to end on a positive note by saying again that not all of him wants to die. There is a side to appeal to, just don’t try it alone.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or send your anonymous questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something on your mind? Let me help you with your life matters because it does!