“I was hanging from a tree with wire around my neck, when a group of people walked past. I still don’t know how they managed to see me through all the bushes!”
In 2011, Fiviwe was not coping with his university studies and drinking heavily. In fact, he found it difficult to live ‘normally’ without alcohol and decided that if he was failing, suicide was the only way out.
Society has come to think that people who talk about suicide will not go through with it, but studies show that 80% of those who commit suicide give some kind of warning to a loved one. The question is, would you be able to recognise the warning signs and know how to help?
Cape Town Psychologist Diane Mallaby says all suicide threats should be taken seriously. “In men specifically, the risk of completion is extremely high as they use more violent measures and are thus four times more likely to succeed on their first attempt than women,” says Mallaby.
South African and international expert on the link between stress and suicide, Professor Lourens Schlebusch agrees. “Consider all suicide threats as dangerous. Even if you feel the person is very far from an attempt, they may do it just to prove you wrong!”
Although all threats should be taken seriously, there are certain signs of an immediate risk. If your loved one has a detailed plan, has attempted suicide before, is saying things like, “Life is not worth living” and seems to be preparing for death by sorting out a will or giving away treasured items, you may need to take drastic measures.
Schlebusch explains that suicidal patients often struggle with depression, which mostly goes undiagnosed in men, as they are less likely to discuss their emotions or seek help for ‘sadness’.
Generally, if a loved one’s unhappiness lasts for more than two weeks, there is a good possibility that they may be suffering from depression. Major life changes, such as a death in the family, a relationship break-up or financial worries can bring on depression. Traditionally seen as the providers, men may find financial difficulties particularly devastating.
Alcohol also wreaks havoc with moods and emotions. Fiviwe lost both his parents when he was very young and began drinking at the age of 12. Last year, he lost his job and his girlfriend due to his drinking problem. “I had practically no money, but whatever I could find, I spent on alcohol. It felt like I had lost everything and had to start from scratch!” he says.
The warning signs
Not likely to open up about their feelings, men can be difficult to read, but knowing the symptoms of depression can help you pick up when there is something wrong.
Mallaby says the signs to look out for in men are withdrawal from friends and family and activities once enjoyed, missing work and social get-togethers, irritability or aggression, saying things like, “I’m a burden to my family”, feelings of hopelessness, increased smoking or drinking, low energy levels and lack of concentration, as well as changes in usual eating and/or sleeping patterns.
For Fiviwe, alcohol magnifies small problems and tends to bring on the suicidal thoughts. When, in 2009, his intention once again turned to suicide, he decided to talk to a close friend instead.
“I cried, he listened and was then brutally honest, saying I have to do something about my addiction! Worried about my state of mind, my friend contacted a few of my relatives and over the next few days I received a lot of calls with the same message – ‘Don’t do it!’. Had it not been for all the support, I would not have made it through!”
For those who seem to be in the ‘danger zone’, professional help is essential and can be found at private or public hospitals/clinics, GPs, psychiatrists and psychologists. Schlebusch says, “Try to suggest this in a way that doesn’t offend your loved one. Another idea is to say you would like to see someone and ask if they would go with you.”
After seeing a psychiatrist and going onto anti-depressant medication for a while, Fiviwe is doing much better. He no longer drinks, which he believes was his biggest problem, and he occasionally sees a psychologist.
“The ‘big men don’t cry’ saying is rubbish!” he says. “If you want to cry, cry and let it all out, it doesn’t make you any less of a man. Don’t keep quiet and suffer alone. Find someone you can trust and talk to them about what’s bothering you. Don’t wait for your problems to become serious, sort them out while they’re still small!”
For free help and more information, call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) on 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393, or visit www.sadag.org
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