It is important that talk of suicide be taken seriously

Q: Last Wednesday, in the middle of the night, our nephew was taken to the hospital by his wife. Apparently he had overdosed on his antidepressants.

She got him to the hospital before there was too much damage, and between her and his physician they managed to see him through his crisis with not too many side-effects. He was discharged the following morning.

I am worried. A number of people in our family have struggled with depression and although no one has successfully died by suicide, the thought for many family members is always there.

My husband is inclined to not believe our nephew. He does not think he really wanted to die and that this overdose was simply a call for the help our nephew needs to relieve him of his personal distress. He could be right. I don’t know.

However, I am inclined to take this suicide attempt seriously. The problem is that I don’t know what to do about it.

We have always been close to my nephew and often when he was a younger boy growing up he would sit and talk freely with both my husband and me. I would like to do that again if it might help ,but I also do not want to intrude. He is an adult, married with family, and I do not feel comfortable just barging into his life.

A: Before getting to your concerns about your nephew, I would like to talk in general about suicide as we know it in this country.

My first point is that although the numbers of people who actually die by suicide are far less than are those who threaten themselves with suicide, the opposite is not true.

Just about everyone who dies by suicide has mentioned beforehand that they intended to do so. Suicide is seldom a complete surprise. That to my mind is significant enough to warrant taking every suicidal suggestion very seriously.

My second concern is that we do not have a miracle cure for those who are considering suicide. Our physicians have a number of anti-depressants that are great, and our mental health services have a number of very competent counsellors, but no one is perfect and at times those who are determined to die by their own hand do so, despite significant attempts to help them.

My third concern is that even with all of the changes in statistical formats, the number of males who die through suicide is close to three times the number of women who choose suicide. The formula continues to hold: more women threaten to die by suicide; more men actually do so.

This has been true for a number of years and puts young men such as your nephew statistically at risk. He very often needs to be in touch with those who care about him.

The final concern that I have is the response our elected officials have for those who are considered to be suicidal. Both Canada and the United States rank near the bottom of the list of developed nations for services and programs to support their suicidal residents.

What all of this means is that you and your husband would be doing your nephew a huge favour if you did what you could to support his journey through his personal distress.

It is not hard. When he is up to talking about his personal concerns, you listen as carefully as you can to him. Don’t give him advice. Just listen.

And if he does not feel up to talking, and he is not giving you much to which you can listen, then give him a huge hug and let him know that you care. Nothing is so precious as a medicinal cuddle.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com.

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