Having Suicidal Thoughts? Symptoms and How to Help

Monique Hassan

17 June, 2020

Cultural taboos have caused Muslims to hide away from the topic of suicide. Worse, making people feel ashamed if they struggle with suicidal thoughts.

Spiritual abuse leads people to think that suicidal thoughts are a sign of low iman. Verses are thrown at sufferers in an attempt to scare them away from these thoughts.

Please know that suicide is on the rise, even with Muslims, and IT IS OKAY to talk about suicide.  Open discussions can save a life. If you are having suicidal thoughts or think someone you love is, here are the symptoms and how to help.

…whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely…”[Quran At- Tur 5:32]

Here are some facts to illustrate how important it is to have open discussions regarding suicide.

Commit Suicide

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According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death amongst youth aged 10-34.

A counseling answer on AboutIslam regarding suicide notes that suicide in their community has become “something common” and is part of the daily news.

Think about that for a moment, a predominantly Muslim community regards suicide as common. Suicide within the United States has continued to show an upward trend since 2008 and Muslim Americans are not immune to this.

Numbers don’t lie, the rate of suicide is increasing, but we can do something about this inshallah. 

Signs of Suicidal Ideation and Thoughts

Firstly, it is important to understand suicidal ideations are not the same as suicidal thoughts. Ideations mean that a person has a plan, such as they determined they would use medication to overdose and the location or they have hidden a knife which they plan to use on themselves. 

Suicidal thoughts do not have details or any type of plan of how they would do it other than they have contemplated suicide.

While both are very serious, suicidal ideations call for emergency action. If anyone expresses suicidal ideations to you, do not hesitate to contact your local emergency department or the police.

Someone with suicidal ideations may need to be hospitalized immediately to ensure their safety. Someone without suicidal ideations doesn’t necessarily need inpatient hospitalization immediately, but they do need assistance and may need hospitalization dependent on their situation. 

Signs of suicidal thoughts can vary per person, but if you see any of these then please take the time to talk with him or talk with someone close with them. 

They make statements such as “I want to die” or “I wish I was never born.” These statements should be taken seriously. 

They have recently acquired weapons such as a gun and don’t have a legitimate reason for this. For example, someone who is concerned with their safety may acquire a gun for protection but if you know this person doesn’t have any concerns over safety and this is outside of their normal behavior then it can be a cause for alarm. 

They begin giving away all their personal possessions and writing a will. Think of this as them preparing to leave and they want to have their affairs in order first. This can also include suddenly taking out a large life insurance policy when they never previously cared about this. 

Having a sudden mood swing from feeling depressed and sad to a feeling of excitement. This might seem odd, but for some serious about suicide, when they decide to do it this might feel like a relief and they feel momentary excitement about “ending the pain” beforehand. 

Increasingly self-destructive behavior. Are they driving fast and doing dangerous activities? Do they seem to care less about their personal safety and are putting it in jeopardy more often?

A preoccupation with death. This can include often talking about death, choosing artwork, songs, and movies that talk about death and a growing fondness for violence. 

Isolating themselves more and cutting off social activities. 

Risk Factors 

While it is not possible to predict if someone will become suicidal, certain factors increase the risk of suicidal thoughts. If someone has one or more of these then be aware it puts them at higher risk. 

"Jump"- Short Film on Youth Suicide

A family history of violence, abuse or in general a dysfunctional home

A family history of mental health disorders (significant increase in risk)

History of substance abuse in the home

They have experienced traumas such as escaping a war-torn region, they were assaulted or any type of event which left them emotionally scarred (especially if they never sought out therapy) 

Previous attempts at suicide or self-harming

Family members have committed or attempted suicide (substantially higher risk if their immediate family did this; parents, spouse, children or siblings)

States they identify as LGBTQ (substantially high-risk for LGBTQ who are met with judgment, regardless of your opinions, if you meet their statements with aggression or judgment you are not helping them)

Medical conditions that encompass chronic pain or disabilities

They have struggled with depression previously

They recently suffered a major life event such as a divorce, death in the family, loss of their job or home

Recently started anti-depressants and are experiencing negative side effects 

How to Help

If you notice any of these signs or are worried about someone in your life who may be contemplating suicide and/or having ideations, then please know you can help.

Having someone to talk to that shows support and concern can go a long way. If you know someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression, but they are not in immediate danger then you can use these tips to help them. 

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Actively listen to them. Active listening is a skill, you are listening to understand not to respond. Do not interrupt them when talking, let them say all they want to say. Do not try to argue with them and avoid any type of judgment.

If you express judgment, they are likely to shut down and stop talking to you. Even if you disagree with something they said, that is their perception and arguing with them will not help.

This is not the time to debate or judge, it is the time to listen and allow them a supportive space to vent. Avoid statements like “things could be worse” or “it isn’t really that bad” as these minimize their emotions and make them feel like you are invalidating their feelings. 

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Encourage them to seek out professional help. They might feel reluctant or shy to seek out help, especially if they come from a family culture that doesn’t understand suicide.

Assure them what they say to a Psychiatrist and/or Therapist is confidential and a safe place. If you feel comfortable with this, you can offer to drive them to a therapy appointment and sit in the room with them or wait in the lobby. 

No matter the outcome of your conversation, follow up with them afterward. Text them or call the next day to see how they are doing. This will also assure them you are a point of support and care about their well-being. 

Make duaa for them and encourage them to express their feelings to Allah (most honored and revered). This can be a source of comfort for them and anything they say to Allah is held between them. Remind them they can get through this and they are never alone. They can trust in you to be a support and they can trust in Allah to take care of them. 

…rely upon Allah . Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him]…” [Quran Aal `Imran 3:159]

Remember, you are not there to solve their problems. It is not possible for you to resolve everything for them and that is okay, you don’t need to. You are a support person who can help them in seeking out professional help.  

Final Thoughts

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts and/or ideations, please take these seriously and don’t wait to take action.

An easy and free resource is the National Suicide Prevention line at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). They are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Be mindful of the risk factors as well as signs of suicidal thoughts. If you are unsure if someone close to you is struggling with suicidal thoughts, don’t hesitate to speak with them privately and determine how they are feeling. That conversation may save their life. 

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