POLOKWANE – Battered, bruised, yellow, blue and black. Resisting, fighting, screaming for help.
It is Monday, 10 September, World Suicide Prevention Day. I am in hospital with Sam who tried to take her own life for the second time in 24 hours. Even though her emotional scars are much worse than her physical scars, we only see the multiple cut wounds on her neck, arms and legs.
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“Please, just stitch me up and let me go home, I beg you!” she screams time and again.
In front of me is a woman in a dark place. A place that I have visited in the past. A place so dark you need out, but at the same time, you want to stay. I met Sam earlier on Monday when she called me, saying there were people who wanted to lock her up. On arrival at her house, expecting to see police, friends and family, I find everything is calm. In her room, it looks like a battle zone, blood all over. Pretty soon she shares her story.
Sam is tired, tired of trying to cope alone. She’s been a drug addict for half her life and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder years ago.
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She shares her story of scars from the past, like sexual abuse, emotional abuse and rejection. While she’s telling me all this, tears flow freely down her cheeks and she show signs of paranoia, hearing people when there is no one there. She is so afraid of being admitted to hospital due to past experiences. “They are rude to a person who tried to commit suicide. They rip the clothes off your body and they don’t treat you with respect. They judge you.”
I can relate. Years ago I had the same experience where nurses and doctors don’t show any warmth towards someone who tried to commit suicide. She begs me to let her die as she does not want to live any longer. I understand exactly how she feels, I’ve been there myself. But at the same time I have experienced life as a healthy, normal individual without these dark thoughts. I want that for her.
I had to leave her, alone, going back to my life, my busy schedule. But only a few hours later, while at a paramedic’s house, a call came in – attempted suicide.
When I heard the address, I told them I was going with them to the scene because it’s Sam’s address. When we got there, it took a lot of convincing, making promises and begging before she agreed to get in the ambulance. I went with her in the ambulance, comforting her, promising her she would be fine. At the hospital, I see the looks of disgust in the faces of the doctors and nurses. They soon realise Sam doesn’t want to be treated. She keeps fighting, screaming obscenities at everyone.
After I don’t know how long, with help from everyone around, she allowed the nurse to give her something to help her calm down. I had to break my promise to her and her trust in me. I needed to be cruel to be kind in order to help her. I had to let her stay in the hospital.
Sam needs help and a lot of tender, specialised care. She does not need judgmental eyes or harsh questions.
She is much more broken inside than she will ever be on the outside.
It is World Suicide Prevention Day, and Sam is all alone in a hospital bed, restrained for her own safety.
She doesn’t want to be there, she wants to be at home with her dogs in her safe place.
Sam is ill and needs someone to care for her, like a mother would care for her child, without judgement.
With medication and therapy, Sam will some day be fine again but for now, she needs unconditional love.
Where to find help:
• Go to your general practitioner. He or she will be able to help.
• Go to a pharmacist.
• Contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag):
Suicide Crisis Line – 0800 567 567.
Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline – 0800 70 80 90.
Destiny Helpline for Youth & Students – 0800 41 42 43.
Akeso Psychiatric Response Unit 24 Hour – 0861 435 787.
You can also visit the website to talk to a counsellor or send an SMS to 31393.
Five warning signs that indicate a person could be contemplating suicide:
1. They talk or joke around about suicide.
The person may talk about dying or threaten to take their life. They may say things like, “I wish I was dead” or something more subtle, like “Nothing matters anymore”. They may even write about death, or watch movies or listen to songs about death.
2. The person seems to feel deeply depressed.
They may feel hopeless, lose interest in work, have crying spells and not enjoy any of the things they used to enjoy. They may become irritable or angry a lot. The person may also isolate themselves and begin to withdraw from friends and family.
It’s important to note depression is a ‘whole-body’ illness that involves body, mood and thoughts. It affects how you feel about yourself and how you think about things. Depression is in no way a sign of weakness. It cannot simply be wished away and people with depression cannot just get over it and pull themselves together.
3. They show a sudden lift in spirit.
If a person showed signs of depression before but then has a sudden lift in mood, this can mean the person is thinking about suicide and is relieved their problems will soon end.
4. They begin preparing for death.
The person may make unexpected changes in their will or give away personal possessions. They may even say goodbye.
5. They show a change in personality.
This could be when a person experiences changes in eating, sleeping or sexual habits that are uncharacteristic. For example, if a normally cheerful and sociable person becomes withdrawn, moody and irritable and loses their friendships.
Five ways to help a person who is suicidal:
Above everything, it’s important for a person who is suicidal to know you care. Listen to the person, ask them questions and help them discuss their feelings.
1. Learn all you can about depression.
You might be that person’s only source of information. Let them know you care and remind them they shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty for having these thoughts. Avoid telling them things like “Get over it” or “Snap out of it.” Let them know their feelings are caused by an illness that can be treated.
2. Invite them out.
They might refuse at first. If they do, ask them again later, or offer to stay in and spend time with them. Often people who are suicidal feel alone, isolated, and that no one understands them. It helps to show you care to spend time with them.
3. If you are worried they might be suicidal, ask them, and help them get help.
A straightforward, caring question about suicide will not cause someone to start having suicidal thoughts. Talking about it may help them feel less alone and more understood. Listen to them unreservedly and offer reassurance. If they say they are thinking of suicide, don’t promise secrecy. Tell someone you trust immediately. You don’t have to feel like you are betraying them. It’s better to lose the relationship than to lose a life. You can tell a friend, a parent, a teacher, or call Sadag at on 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393. Sadag is open seven days a week from 08:00 to 20:00.
4. Talk to the person about attending a support group meeting if there is one.
Support groups can help the person learn they are not alone. It also allows them to make contact with people who may understand them better.
5. Try to make sure they do not have access to things they can use to injure themselves with like knives, guns, alcohol or drugs.
If the person is in immediate danger, take them to a hospital, casualty or to a clinic.
These are just some ways to help a person who is suicidal. Always remember, however, you cannot shoulder the responsibility for making your friend or family member well.