TALKING THERAPY
18/02/2019 10:17 AM IST | Updated 30/09/2019 7:53 PM IST

6 Things To Do When You Have Suicidal Thoughts, According To Experts

People who have suicidal thoughts often don’t know how to deal with them. Psychologists say suicidal thoughts can be controlled through breathing techniques, using your senses or keeping a hope box.

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Have you ever had a suicidal thought? You are not alone. Thoughts of suicide can enter people’s minds because of reasons ranging from loss and trauma to a mental illness, say experts.

A report by the World Health Organisation last year said that close to 800,000 people across the world die due to suicide every year. For every suicide, said the study, there were many more attempts every year.

Ruchika Kanwal, a psychologist at the Karma Center for Counselling & Wellbeing, said there are two types of suicidal thoughts — suicidal ideation and death wish.

“Death wish is when people are having passive thoughts about not wanting to live. Suicidal ideation is when someone is actively contemplating suicide,” she said.

“Suicidal thoughts are seen in those who suffer from chronic mental illnesses or those who are suffering from a physical illness that cannot be cured. Life events like a failed marriage, financial loss or loss of a job could also lead to suicidal thoughts,” she added.

And having suicidal thoughts is more common than one may think. Johnson Thomas, director of suicide prevention helpline Aasra, said, “A majority, say 80%, of our callers express suicidal ideation.”

People who have suicidal thoughts often don’t know how to deal with them.

According to the experts, the extreme step is almost always taken as an impulse and can be prevented with some steps.

1. Keep a ‘hope box’

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At Karma Centre, Kanwal said they often ask clients to keep a ‘hope box’ of their best memories, including photos of loved ones, certificates of achievements or the perfume used by their favourite person. “We ask them to keep it handy, so that the moment they feel suicidal,  going through the photos or smelling the perfume can bring them back to the present. It reminds them of how important they are to these people,” she said.

2. Breathe

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Though it sounds cliched, both Kanwal and Thomas say that deep breathing can help. “Take slow deep breaths. Inhale, stop for a few seconds and exhale,” said Thomas. Kanwal said, “A lot of people say they feel numb, where they can’t sense anything. Deep breathing slowly gets you back to your senses.”

3. Use all your senses

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The numbness people feel when contemplating suicide, said Kanwal, can also be controlled by smelling, touching and feeling objects near them or tasting something, so that they are brought back to the present.

4. Avoid isolation

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It is important to just buy time so as to not give into the impulse of wanting to ending one’s life, said the experts.

Calling someone close to you, who knows about the situation, can help.

“But we ask clients not to fix just one person, but a couple of people like close family or friends, so that in case one person is not picking up, you can call someone else,” said Kanwal.

Sitting with your pet can also help, she added.

Thomas said that the person can also call a suicide helpline to talk about their feelings.

5. Go to a public place

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There are times when even even the closest friend or family member may not be available on the phone. In such a situation, stepping out into a public space may help. Thomas said, “Go to a garden or a park or do a physical activity.”

6. Don’t wait for the suicidal impulse

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 According to Kanwal, when someone is thinking of suicide, the cognition is so challenged that it may be difficult for them to think of anything positive. So, she said, it is important to practice positive thinking. “Maintain a diary where you write down what was great during the day to train your mind to think positive.”

What can you do in the long term?

Both Thomas and Kanwal suggest therapy and counselling as a long-term solution. Kanwal said, “For us, (when) helping people when they have suicidal ideation or active suicidal thoughts, the first step is distracting, crisis intervention, but that’s not treatment or therapy. Until you seek out help, it is not going to effectively change the way you think. Counsellors or therapists can help you look at things in a more positive perspective, alter the way you feel, modify the way you are behaving. Suicidal thoughts can be managed with therapy.”

Thomas adds that changing one’s lifestyle is also important.

“Go to a counsellor or professional, re-adjust your lifestyle habits to destress your life.Take up hobbies that relax you and reaffirm your self-worth. Give yourself regular breaks from stressful activities.”

It also helps to put away the gadgets and relearn socialising.

“Do a tech detox— detach from technology and re-engage with people on a face-to-face, on a one-on-one basis,” he said.

If you or someone you know needs help, mail icall@tiss.edu or dial 022-25521111 (Monday-Saturday, 8am to 10pm) to reach iCall, a psychosocial helpline set up by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).