Sometimes life feels so painful that thoughts on suicide arise. Suicidal behaviour is an attempt to escape from a hopeless situation, ranging from thinking about suicide to actually planning and executing it.
I could no longer envision any hope or future. That was obviously not the case, but (to me) it seemed that way.
Suicide is - alongside traffic accidents - the most common cause of death amongst young people between 15 and 29 years old. One student out of ten has thought about suicide, and one out of a hundred has even made a suicide attempt. Though suicide is more common amongst men, more women than men have suicidal thoughts and make suicide attempts. Young women are especially vulnerable.
Thinking about suicide or actually attempting suicide rarely comes out of the blue. It is usually preceded by a process of months or even years. Often, it starts off with suicidal thoughts or the wish to (temporarily) escape from a problematic situation, and gradually evolves to more concrete plans or an actual attempt.
The intensity of suicidal thoughts varies. Thoughts can fluctuate from a more passive death wish (e.g. ‘no longer care about being here’) to concrete suicidal plans. Only a minority of people with suicidal thoughts develop a real intention to commit suicide; of those, more than half actually try to carry out these plans. Yet, even without any concrete plan, 15% of people thinking about suicide make a real attempt.
Suicidal thoughts can be very frightening, especially when they appear uncontrollable. In that case, it feels as if you are constantly burdened by and no longer have any control over them. Accordingly, this can mean you develop tunnel vision.
Most suicidal individuals do not have a real desire to die, but they feel so desperate and bad that they cannot see any other way out than to end their lives. They see suicide as a solution to problems they experience as unbearable, unsolvable and irreversible. Hence, suicide is more a means of changing the situation rather than a goal in itself.
There is never just one cause or factor behind suicidal thoughts or attempts, but a complex interplay of genetic, biological, psychological and social factors. Vulnerability factors such as a decreased functioning of serotonin, a hyperactive stress system, reduced problem-solving behaviour or thinking in black and white all increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide.
As with any other age group, this risk is higher amongst young people suffering from a psychological disorder like depression. In addition, negative life events such as violence, bullying or the passing away of a close one can have a negative impact, as can a lack of social support. Conversely, solid connections with friends provide protection against the risk.
More than half of those who are thinking about suicide consciously or unconsciously send out signals. Though these can be very diverse, below are some possible warning signs that someone is having a hard time:
There is always hope, even if you don’t always see it.
Are you walking around with worries and do you sometimes think about death? Have a conversation with someone who you feel comfortable with and trust, like a good friend, your parents, sister or brother. This can be a huge relief and talking about it also helps to piece things together. You can also find help together.
If you don’t immediately have the courage to tell someone in your direct environment, then try to talk about it with someone who has heard similar stories, such as your GP or someone at your college or university. You can also anonymously contact Awel (102 or via www.awel.be) or Tele-Onthaal (106 or via tele-onthaal.be), or the Suicide Line (1813 or Zelfmoordlijn1813.be) for questions regarding suicidal thoughts.
Do you want to make a start on getting your suicidal thoughts under control? Think Life can help you to better cope with them. The course consists of six modules you can work through independently and at your own pace. In addition, apps like BackUp and On Track Again can offer guidance on suicidal thoughts or after a suicide attempt.
If you feel that your thoughts about suicide are prevailing, it is important to seek in-depth support, in addition to any self-help. For more information and help you can contact the Zelfmoordlijn (1813 or zelfmoord1813.be) free of charge and anonymously, or speak to professionals like your GP.
Professor dr. Gwendolyn Portzky (UGent) is a clinical psychologist and cognitive behavioral therapist and is specialized in burnout and suicide prevention. Together with her and student Barbora, our host Carola addresses the topic of suicidal thoughts in this episode.
Feel free to discuss any subject that disturbs you and do not be afraid this will cause the other person to have bad thoughts. Stick to your role: you are a friend, not a professional. Refer to professional help, perhaps go with the person or arrange an appointment together if that helps them access the support they need.
Back-up en Houvast are apps that can offer you guidance and support when faced with suicidal thoughts or after a suicide attempt (Dutch)
Wat drijft iemand tot zelfmoord? (Dutch)
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