Learn to recognise the signs of suicide

Learn to recognise the signs of suicide

This article is provided by FMT content partner HealthWorks.my.

While some who are suicidal keep their plans to themselves, it is also very common for those wrestling with thoughts of suicide to exhibit clues (and cries for help) that you can pick up.


My dad took his own life a few years ago, and although he was depressed and always shut away in his room, none of us saw it coming.

Before the dreaded day, he had spent a couple of months at his brother’s place abroad for some rest and reflection. When he got back, he didn’t seem depressed anymore but was actually cracking jokes and seemed to be at peace with himself. We met up on a Sunday and even made plans for the following week, but before I could see any of those plans materialise, we got a call from the police.

They had found my dad in his car, unconscious, with the exhaust pipe connected to the car interior through a hose. There was no doubt about it, he had attempted suicide. After weeks on life support, his lungs gave out and his attempt succeeded.

For months after, maybe even years, I asked myself why I wasn’t more alert to his emotions, why none of us realised how close he was to taking his life. We were all in shock and just couldn’t understand why he was doing it, when things seemed like they were turning for the better. Why make plans with us if he wasn’t planning to see it through? Why act cheerful and happy when he was sad enough to end it all?

I kept wondering what would’ve happened if we were more in tune with his thoughts, or if he were better at communicating his feelings. Could he still be alive now? Or would he wallow in his depression till he did it at a later date?

While nobody should be blamed for someone’s choice to take their own lives, we could probably be better at reaching out to those that are in need. Perhaps if we learned to identify the signs of suicide, we could help save a life?

In Malaysia, suicide rates are on the rise. So pressing was the issue that the Malaysian government launched a five-year National Suicide Prevention Strategic Action Plan in 2012.

Suicide isn’t something people like talking about, but it’s about time we had a conversation around this difficult topic.

Warning Signs of Suicide

While some who are suicidal keep their plans to themselves, it is also very common for those wrestling with thoughts of suicide to exhibit clues (and cries for help) that you can pick up.

There are both physical and behavioural signs that someone might be contemplating suicide. According to the professionals at SuicideLine, these could include:

  • Disrupted sleeping patterns: They might start sleeping way too much, or not at all.
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to matter: Maybe playing the guitar and composing was everything for them, but they suddenly just dropped music stating that there wasn’t a point to it all. Things like that could be red flags.
  • Self-harming: You might notice self-inflicted cuts on the arm, legs etc.
  • Neglect of personal hygiene / appearance: Taking baths just isn’t as enticing anymore when you have no will to live.
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Change in appetite: either eating very little or eating very much
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Putting affairs in order: Like giving away prized possessions, making arrangements
  • Talking or writing about suicide: like suicide notes, or saying things like “it’s better if I’m gone…” etc
  • Acting (uncharacteristically) reckless like they have a death wish: like running red lights, engaging in risky activities
  • Saying goodbye: makes unexpected visits to people to say goodbye, as if they aren’t going to see them again.
  • Suddenly appearing calmer: This usually happens when the suicidal person comes to terms with their decision to kill themselves. You’ll notice that they seem happier and more relaxed, more at peace with themselves. Experts believe this is because suicide feels like the perfect solution for all their problems.

Common Misconceptions about Suicide 

amanda-todd-suicide-2012Not many of us understand a whole lot about suicide, which brings about some misconceptions. We’ll address a few of the common misunderstandings here:

1. Those who are bent on taking their own lives will do so and nothing you can say or do will stop them.

Experts believe that those who think about suicide do not really want to die, but instead want the pain to stop. Suicide is an impulsive action, and impulses can pass.

2. If they’re talking about killing themselves, they probably won’t do it.

While there are people who hide their plans, there are also people who have exhibited suicidal signals. It’s best not to ignore suicidal statements like “I feel like death’s the only way out”, or “the world will be better with me gone”, whether casually or jokingly said.

3. You shouldn’t discuss suicide with depressed people, it could give them ideas.

Suicidal people are usually relieved to be able to talk about their problems. By taking them seriously and talking about it, you would be helping them out.

4. Those who commit suicide must be nuts

Suicidal people are depressed, but they aren’t clinically characterised as psychotic. They are usually grappling with grief, distress and emotional pain, and while these are signs of mental illness, they aren’t signs of psychosis. In other words, they’re not crazy.

5. Only depressed people commit suicide, so if their emotional state improves, they’re not suicidal anymore

Many suicides occur when the suicidal person reaches a moment of clarity. This relaxed and upbeat manner usually comes after a long bout of depression, and that’s when they find the energy to go through with the deed.

What You Can Do to Help 

Some people think ignoring the issue would eventually make it go away, but that couldn’t be further away from the truth.

Reach out to those who you feel are suicidal, even if you’re unsure. It’s better to overreact than to stand a chance of losing them. Give your loved one an opportunity to open up to you about the negative feelings he/she is dealing with.

Start by showing concern. Questions like these could help get the conversation started:

“I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately. What’s up?”

“I’m worried about you, how are things going with you?”

“Are you OK? You don’t seem OK lately, what’s going on?”

Questions you can ask:

“When did you start feeling this way?”

“How can I help you now?”

“Did anything happen that made you feel this way?”

“Have you thought about seeking help?”

Show them you care by not being accusatory or arguing with their statements and feelings.Saying things like “that’s stupid to think like that”, “if you kill yourself, you’re just being selfish” will NOT help.


  • Listen
  • Accept
  • Be patient
  • Show that you care
  • Reassure them that help is available
  • Let them know they’re important to you
  • Ask them if they’re thinking of suicide


  • Judge
  • Offer empty words of reassurance
  • Belittle their problems
  • Give advice on how to fix the problems (it could be a small problem to you, but it’s big to them)
  • Lecture them on the value of life
  • Say suicide is wrong
  • Blame yourself

At the end of the day, remember that you’re not a professional and you probably shouldn’t be dealing with this alone.

Get help from the professionals at Befrienders  (03-7956 8144 / 03-7956 8145; both available 24 hours a day), all calls are confidential. If talking on the phone isn’t your thing, you can contact Befrienders by writing to sam@befrienders.com.my, or meeting up face to face after making an appointment with the Befrienders.

September 13, 2014

#BeFrienders   #Suicide

Published by

Robert Chaen

Global CEO-Founder of ChangeU and Movsha Movers & Shakers, Hero-CEO Whisperer, Writer, The #1 Alpha Change Expert, Father of Asian FireWalking Robert Chaen is an International Keynote Speaker, writer, researcher, and corp games designer. He is famously known to be the “Hero-CEO Whisperer”, 1-on1 coaching with many CEOs and Celebrities for corporate strategies, staff & office political issues, personal branding, and even public figure OSHA safety drilling called Drager Defense. He has transformed CEOs and managers in Coca-Cola China, TVB Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airport Services, VADS, TM, Public Bank, Auditor General's Office Maldives, etc. He is the prolific creator and online Author of innovative management tools such as DragonCEO, Diamond Leader, Papillon Personal Effectiveness, OSHA Drager Defense, KPI Bank, etc. He is also the Founder of Movsha, an international networking with monthly mingles with MOVers & SHAkers, Angels, Entrepreneurs, CEOs, Celebrities, HR-PR-CSR, HODs, and the Most Influential IDEA people. ​Chaen is widely considered as one of the top International Platform Keynote Speakers for Resorts World Genting Senior Management Conference (Manila), 7-Eleven HK, Samsung, Coca-Cola China Mini-MBA @Tsing Hua University, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Jockey Club, The Story Conference where he interviewed Datuk Kamarudin (Chairman of AirAsia) and Siti Nurhaliza. He has been widely featured in TVB, AWSJ, CNBC, SCMP, The Star, and Sin Chew. As “The Father of Asian FireWalking”, he coached TVB celebrities (Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin) to walk on 650°C fire; and raised HK$68M in the world’s 1st and only live TV Charity FireWalk (TVB Tung Wah Charity Show), before Tony Robbins even came to Asia. If Robert can get you to walk on 650⁰C fire, he can inspire you to be THE BEST. He champions CN-HK-EU-US Tycoons to be philanthropic, and to be angel investors to support the next generation of Jack Mas, Steve Jobs, Richard Bransons, Steven Spielbergs, or Barrack Obamas. With some slick motivational speakers with fake doctorates out there, graduates often describe Robert to be "the most credible, empowering, truthful Coach" who believe in his graduates to believe in themselves. ​However, clients have described Robert as "The #1 Cool Badass Alpha Change Expert". He has the coolest first class stature, rapport and trust from clients. He will not hesitate to tell the badass truth ever so gently because clients are paying him big bucks to reveal the truth, find solutions, persuade the hostile HODs, and align cross-teams within the organization. Originally based in Hong Kong for 20+ years, he had worked with top Branding/Ad agencies at J Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett, and was a certified FranklinCovey (7 Habits) in USA, and NLP MasterCoach (USA). His warmth is known to soften the most hardened, resistant sceptics. He will inspire your team to Go for Top 1, or to be a Dragon CEO. With boundless energies, Robert owns 15+ successful business Joint-Ventures, and created unique products under his global VC network called Chaen's Angels VC. He is deeply passionate about ChangeUTH Youth CSR, Science-Based Medicine (vs. quackery), short films and Reality TV. Touched by a personal tragedy through the loss of his HK-born Portuguese wife, co-coach and business partner, Brenda José of 18 years, Robert explores the many ways in which the spirit world is communicating with the living with real scientific studies and evidence. He gives inspiring conferences on The Secret Afterlife.

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