Suicide of a partner is devastating, particularly in times of relationship trouble.
Though it was fairly common knowledge that Andrew Stern and his wife Katie Cleary had separated, it was reported to be a very amicable separation, and many people were surprised to read that he had committed suicide. It shouldn't have been that much of a surprise, however: separation is one of the highest stress life changes that we can experience, and as a result, separation is a risk factor for suicide.
Sometimes, people commit suicide impulsively. This happens more often with men than women, and more often when people are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In these cases, there are usually no signs that the person is at risk at all, but often there are signs that a spouse is at risk. Here are 5 common ones:
- There is a drastic change in his emotional state. If he is usually quiet and shy, for example, he might become much more gregarious. If he has been sad and withdrawn over a period of time, he may become suddenly happy and outgoing. Sometimes these changes happen because the person has finally made a decision that he feels will solve the problems that have been causing his depression: suicide. Now that there is a solution, he feels relieved and in many cases he can feel elated. It is not unusual to hear the people closest to a person who has committed suicide say that he had been depressed but had become much better recently. People will describe the person as happier and calmer.
- She suddenly puts her life in order. Many people who are contemplating suicide will pay off debts, get rid of prized possessions (many give them to friends or family, some donate them to charity), tidy up their living spaces, and make sure that nothing that is expected of them remains undone. When people ask, often they will say that they are simply having a spring clean or trying to put order into their lives. It is not unusual for spouses contemplating suicide to make sure that their life insurance policies are paid up and will cover in the event of suicide, also making sure that debts are paid and that the paperwork a spouse may need to access funds is in a clearly labelled place. Many spouses make sure that wills are up to date and clear.
- He talks about wanting to die or people being better off without him. People who are thinking about suicide very often talk about it first with the people who are closest to them. They will talk about feeling that life is hopeless, feeling worthless and not being able to see any way for life to improve. They may also talk about different ways to commit suicide, either seriously or by telling jokes about suicide.
- She suddenly seeks to visit and speak to anyone with whom she feels she has had a close relationship in the past or present. Sometimes people even make it a point to say goodbye, though often this is said in an indirect manner so that it isn't so obvious that what is being said is goodbye forever.
- He sleeps much less or much more, increases his use of alcohol or drugs, and/or his appetite decreases. People who are clinically depressed may suffer from sleep difficulties. Often they have trouble either falling asleep or staying asleep, and it is very common for them to wake very early in the morning, long before the alarm would go off. They frequently lose their appetites and find that food is not as enjoyable anymore. While they are trying to decide whether they want to live or die, they will often increase alcohol or drug use.
Not all people who are thinking about suicide show all of these signs, and not everyone who shows these signs is thinking about suicide. Nonetheless, these are strong warning signs. When you see them you should ask the person exhibiting them how he is feeling and make sure he is not thinking of harming himself. Before having this conversation, make sure that you know who you can call if you feel that your spouse is a danger to himself. Is there a GP that your spouse sees? A therapist? A psychiatrist? If so, make sure that you have the phone number so that you can call and inform the person of the situation and request help if you need it. If you can, talk your spouse into going with you to see someone who can provide help. It is worth calling a local suicide hotline for advice if you are worried prior to the conversation.
Here is a quick and dirty test for clinical depression, adapted from Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Triad in 1976: if a person feels really bad about herself, feels really bad about the world, and feels that there is no future for her, then she has clinical depression. These three beliefs feed into each other, creating a circle that is extremely difficult to break out of without professional support.
The best way to prevent suicide is to encourage communication, look for signs of clinical depression or major changes in emotion and behaviour, and talk to a spouse if they are exhibiting these signs. If you don't feel that you can have the conversation without becoming judgemental or overly emotional, find someone close to your spouse who can have that talk.
Dr. Lori Bisbey: Relationship Coach, Psychologist
Dr. Lori Bisbey works with bright motivated couples and polyamorous groups of all ages, genders, races and sexualities who want to create long lasting passionate relationships. Anyone can create the love and intimate relationships of their dreams. If you can see it and you are committed to growth, communication and getting out into the world; you can create it! The relationships you want start with you. You can connect with Lori face to face, at a workshop/lecture, in a WebEx seminar or group, or set up a Skype chat and start your journey now!