Think of life lived on a parabola. The image of a roller coaster may come to mind, one that goes up, up, up and then, inevitably, comes down.
We all have good days and bad days – that’s life. Things at work, school or in your relationship can be fabulous one minute and awful the next.
However, everyday sadness can be something else.
Perhaps you’ve experienced a loss or had a major life change, such as the death of someone you care about, a break-up of a relationship, or the divorce of your parents. If this unhappiness lasts day in and day out for more than two weeks and starts to interfere with your life, it might be something more serious, says Professor Lourens Schlebusch.
There is a difference between having a bad day and clinical depression.
According to the professor this occurs when you are depressed for most of the day, for about two weeks; you may have a markedly diminished interest in pleasure, experience weight loss, you may have no appetite or an increased appetite, you may have sleep disturbances almost every night, fatigue, feelings of inappropriate guilt, memory issues and feelings of worthlessness.
These feelings, experienced for too long, can translate into clinical depression.
The biochemistry is that this sadness can lead to the depletion of neurochemicals in the brain, making the person, already not getting good sleep, fatigued and more prone to illness.
The feelings that cause a person to think about suicide are caused by the person’s illness.
Some things you can do if you’re thinking about suicide:
Tell someone right away.
Develop a plan with the help of your family and/or friends to make sure you’re not by yourself.
Don’t use alcohol and/or drugs.
Ask your parents or partner to lock up any guns or other dangerous items in the house. Throw away all medications you are no longer taking.
Depression can cause your mind to focus only on the bad things. Remember that this is part of your illness; it’s not who you are and it’s not the way things will always be.
Have regularly scheduled health-care appointments and keep them.
Keep pictures of your favourite people nearby at all times to remind you they are there for you.
If you can, get involved in things you like to do. If not, just spend time with family and friends, even if you are doing something quiet like watching TV, going to a movie or reading with someone else in the room.
If you drive, be sure a friend or family member knows to take away your keys when you feel suicidal.
Talk about how you’re feeling. At support groups, you can meet other people who may have been through some of the same things you have.
If a person tells you they are thinking of suicide:
Listen to him/her. Ask questions. Help the person discuss his/her feelings.
Learn all you can about depression. You might be that person’s only source of information. Let them know you care. Remind them that they shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty. Avoid telling them things like, “Snap out of it.” Let them know their feelings are caused by an illness that can be treated.
Invite them out. Realise they might not want to go at first. If they say no, ask again later, or offer to stay in and spend time with them.
If you are worried they might be suicidal, ask, and assist them to get help. A straightforward, caring question about suicide will not cause suicidal thoughts. If they are thinking of suicide, don’t promise secrecy. Tell someone you trust immediately.
Talk to the person about attending a support group meeting if there is one. It can help them to learn that they are not alone.
Make sure they do not have access to things that can cause injury, like knives, guns, alcohol or drugs.
Do not take responsibility for making your friend or family member well. You are not a therapist.
If the person is in immediate danger, take them to a hospital or a clinic.
Who to call for help
SADAG Toll Free Suicide Crisis Line: 0800 567 567 or 011 262 6396 or SMS 31393
Childline: 031 312 0904
Federation of Mental Health: 031 207 2717
Lifeline: 0861 322 322
Local police station
10111. Contact your local police station for a trauma counsellor or visit your local clinic.
Watch for warnings
According to Sadag about 75 percent of people who attempt suicide give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member. Here are some of the warning signs:
TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE: The person may threaten to take his or her life. He or she may say things like “I wish I was dead” or something more subtle, such as “nothing matters any more”.
FEELING DEEPLY DEPRESSED: He or she may feel hopeless, lose interest in work, have crying spells and not enjoy any of the things they used to like doing.
ISOLATION: A person may begin to withdraw from friends and family.
SHOWING A SUDDEN LIFT IN SPIRITS: A sudden change in mood can mean that the person is thinking about suicide and is relieved that his or her problems will soon end.
PREPARING FOR DEATH: For example, he or she may make unexpected changes in his or her will or give away personal possessions.
SHOW CHANGES IN PERSONALITY: The person may experience changes in eating, sleeping or sexual habits. - The Mercury