When a relationship ends, the roller coaster of feelings we experience range from sad and tearful to downright scary and paralyzing. Breakups are never easy. The isolation, fears about the future and uncertainty about what went wrong can bring on deep feelings of depression. Much of this process is normal and part of the experience we must go through to heal.
But what happens when it takes a more frightening turn? When someone's feelings of sadness tread into suicidal territory? How can we distinguish between normal breakup blues and those that may prove more serious?
A 22-year-old runway model named Tom Nicon recently jumped to his death on the heels of a breakup that those close to him said left him struggling with depression. It's a tragic ending to a life filled with promise. Surely the people in his life are now wondering if they might have done something more to prevent it.
Were there signs they could have seen that may have helped to save his life? When breakups happen, it's normal to feel depressed, sad and uncertain about the future. A death of sorts has occurred, and we have to mourn what has ended. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about the five stages of grief in her groundbreaking book "On Death and Dying." As Ross explains it, the initial stages of grief are filled with all of the feelings: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The thing about grief is that anyone who experiences a loss must navigate these waters; they're not unique to loss of life. In the beginning our feelings are like a tsunami: all-consuming. Eventually, pauses in grief infiltrate the painful times until we have hours and days where we don’t think about it at all. Then one day hope returns, and like a light at the end of a very long tunnel, we begin to see that we will recover and, someday, love again.
The question Tom Nicon's death raises is: Were there signs that he had crossed over to the dark side of grief? A place where there appears to be no hope and the only option is to take one’s life? Could his friends and loved ones have taken action that may have helped and possibly prevented his tragic ending? I talked to ProConnect member Lisa Brookes Kift, Marriage & Family Therapist, and asked her words of advice for helping someone in a situation similar to Tom's.
Lisa offered this, "As a professional, the biggest concerns are hopelessness, no reported reason to go on (nothing to keep the person here) and any mention of suicidal thinking along with a plan and means to carry it out. The appearance of making plans to 'tie up loose ends' and giving things away to others is also a worrisome sign. My best advice for the depressed person is to do the best you can to practice self-care, give yourself a break—with clinical depression it’s understandable that you can't simply 'brush it off' or 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps.'"
For the loved one, do not judge or try to motivate with things like, 'you'll get over it…' Clinical depression is serious and can be deadly. The best thing you can do is to listen, validate their experience, and empathize with their feelings. Encourage the growth of a support network to help (family, other friends) and assist the person in getting professional help if needed." Dumped? 10 Healthy Ways To Heal
In addition to Lisa's great advice, I offer these signs of high-risk depressive behavior:
- The grieving person has very little support in place, is isolated and refusing help from anyone.
- There is significant disruption in functioning and things like bathing, grooming, eating, sleeping are not happening.
- If the person feels bad for an extended period of time (more than two weeks) without any decrease or pause in symptoms.
- Any conversations about suicide that include a plan, method or thought-out strategy. If someone is showing that they have the method or means, it's time to act.
Mental health experts believe men are at heightened risk for suicidal depression than women. Men generally have fewer channels for talking and sharing feelings—helpful tools during hard times—than women do. Where a woman may feel comfortable hashing out a breakup with everyone from her hairstylist to her grandmother, men don't always have that same ease. Men are also geared towards quick thinking and taking action, so lethal terms and their plans can go from thought to action very quickly.
That said, our best advice is that whenever you witness a person talking about suicide, take it seriously. Ask questions about what they are thinking and do not be afraid to seek a professional's help. You're not alone. ProConnect offers direct contact with mental health experts who can explore your depression or concerns for a loved one. You can also take these same concerns, your own or your loved ones, to services like the National Suicide Hotline 1-800-784-2433 (it’s free) or call 911 for help.
When someone as young and vibrant as Tom Nicon commits suicide it's a wakeup call to pay attention to our friends and loved ones. Remember that you're not alone and that there's no harm in asking for help, for yourself and for those you love who are in need. Originally published on The Huffington Post.