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Aethelwine's avatar

When do you take a cry of suicide serious?

Asked by Aethelwine (42958points) April 15th, 2010

My mother has said it more than once, she just said it again, she’s suicidal. (she’s in her mid 70s)

I honestly don’t think she would do anything, she is very hurt because of an argument she had with my sister.

Do I just tell her I love her, and hope nothing happens? :(

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56 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

I would take each and every one seriously especially if it was a parent, sibling or BF. They would do the same for you. How would you answer this question at their funeral had you not??

dpworkin's avatar

Any suicidal ideation is serious, whether or not there is a genuine attempt. Your mother needs to be treated for her suicidality, which may be a symptom of depression.

Aethelwine's avatar

@dpworkin We have been telling her for years that she needs help, she is very depressed. She always says they can’t afford it.

chyna's avatar

I dated a guy back when I was 25 that commited suicide. He gave me no indication that he was going to do that. He failed to show up for work one day, I went to look for him and found him. On the other hand, I had a girlfriend that said she was going to commit suicide on a weekly basis. She slashed at her wrists and would lay outside her boyfriends house with bloody arms about the time he was due home. To me, it was a cry for attention. I don’t know if your mom is serious or not, but if something does happen, no one but HER is responsible for her actions. Not you, not your sister.
My heart goes out to you.

le_inferno's avatar

The rate of successful suicides is highest in people aged 65+, so I’d take her seriously. Any talk of suicide should be taken seriously. You can’t just hope nothing happens; if she went through with it, you’d regret not taking action. She should be checked in to a psychiatric hospital if she’s truly suicidal.

dpworkin's avatar

It’s not true that it is not affordable. Call your local Department of Mental Health and get her a referral. I see a fine practitioner and pay $5.00 per visit on a sliding scale because I am a full-time student and have no income.

janbb's avatar

Does she has a history of depression or bipolarism? My mother is (probably) bipolar and has often talked about wanting to die. She has also been treated for depression. You probably have a fairly good sense of whether this is a serious desire or she is being a drama queen, but should err on the side of caution and get her help.

Ponderer983's avatar

always…just think the one time you think they aren’t serious and it happens how bad you would feel. I would address it

Buttonstc's avatar

One of the questions you might ask her is how she would do it. If she has put some thought into that, there’s a red flag.

If she starts giving away possessions, that’s another troublesome indicator.

And surprisingly, if she suddenly appears to be unusually cheerful or peaceful, that’s a possible indication that she has finalized plans and set a date in the near future.

It’s impossible to truly know what is in another person’s mind so the above are just generalizations based upon hindsight and gleaned from those experienced in the study of suicide.

One really cannot afford to take another person’s thoughts of suicide lightly. But even if she isn’t at the point of imminently carrying out a plan, this is clearly a cry for help.

Don’t ignore it till it worsens. Try to persuade her to seek counseling or spend more time in conversation with her yourself.

My mother committed suicide (in the seventies) so in subsequent years I learned quite a bit about the subject. It’s really difficult to deal with and you need to try your best to get her the help she needs.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Take it seriously. My best friend who killed himself last December, said he would never actually kill himself. He also said that he would absolutely never do it where and how it happened, especially. But it still happened. @Buttonstc has made some good points, aside from the first one: Regardless of whether or not she has put thought into how she would do it, it doesn’t matter. Tigh put thought into it, on multiple occasions, and he did it how he said he never would.

Jeruba's avatar

Point of clarification, @Buttonstc: your mother committed suicide in the 1970s (decade) or in her seventies (age)?

Aethelwine's avatar

@dpworkin We try to tell her she has options, but she just won’t do it. She sounds much like @chyna‘s friend that keeps crying for attention. She complains, but never takes the advice that is given to her.

Buttonstc's avatar


Sorry about that. In THE seventies (decade) NOT in her seventies.

I only added that info for clarity as I’ve gotten concerned looks from medical professionals who are all worried I may be a candidate for the same. Since it was that long ago, it’s no longer as immenent possibility as in the years immediately following.

dpworkin's avatar

@jonsblond If she is in danger, and not acting responsibly, someone must act for her. I suggest that you begin with her General Practitioner.

chyna's avatar

@jonsblond And just to clarify, the girl that kept saying she was going to commit suicide back 30 years ago is still alive and still doing the same thing. I had to get away from her as she just sucked the happiness out of anyone near her, so I haven’t talked to her in years, but hear through others that nothing has changed with her.

janbb's avatar

@jonsblond She sounds much like my Mom who needed the attention her dramatics got her. But again, I don’t want to say don’t take it seriously and have you be proven wrong. However, if she won’t accept help or advice, it is ultimately her life and her choice.

tranquilsea's avatar

You should take her in to get assessed at an emergency department. Anytime someone talks about suicide you should take it seriously. Only medical professionals are qualified to make the judgment on how at risk she is.

Also, they may be able to set up some emergent therapy for her, or, at least give her information on where she can get help.

My thoughts are with you through this time.

Aethelwine's avatar

What an emotional night for me. Thank you all for your help and support. It is nice to know I can get help and advice here at Fluther.

MorenoMelissa1's avatar

I would take it damn seriously.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@jonsblond How often is she alone?

janbb's avatar

Why don’t you talk to her and tell her of your concerns? Tell her you are firghtened that she will harm herself and ask her what she feels you should do.

jazmina88's avatar

Getting old is not easy…..for my Mom either. It all depends on her personality. Does she use people to get attention?

You should get her assessed and talk to her. It is not fair to say that to anyone. It is emotional abuse upon you as well. She does need help anyhow. Hang in there.

Aethelwine's avatar

@DrasticDreamer My father is retired and always with her, but they don’t get out much. Her best friend died several years ago, so she relies on her children for support.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@jonsblond Okay. The good part is that she’s never alone. At this point, I suggest pouring your heart out (truly) the next time you talk to her. Tell her how and why you love her, bring up specific memories of times you don’t know what you would have done without her, etc. Until you get some more help for her… This is all you can do.

I go back to the night Tigh died, over and over and over. I sit there, changing the outcome in my mind, changing the things I said to him, making it more clear how much I loved him, forcing it into his face… And it’s completely unhealthy, but I haven’t been able to do anything else. I really don’t want to see you in the same position. :(

RedPowerLady's avatar

You always take a cry of suicide seriously because studies show that the more one says they are going to do it the more likely they are to actually commit the act. The more detail they go into as well the more likely it is (of course most people keep this detail inside their heads).

I have education in Psychology and recently went to a suicide seminar.

You need to get your mom some help. And just so you know giving people who are thinking about suicide words like “you shouldn’t do it b/c it would hurt me and I need you”. That is good but it won’t stop them.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Blah. I want to give more advice, but I can’t. There isn’t any… Just take it seriously and do whatever you can. This thread has become too hard for me.

@jonsblond I truly, from the bottom of my heart, wish you luck. I will send good thoughts your way and hope that everything works out.

tranquilsea's avatar

There is this website too. It helps. I have been suicidal and I am here today because people took me seriously and got me help. It is an extremely dark place to be. I hope your mom does get help for how she is feeling.

thriftymaid's avatar

Take them all seriously. Ask how they intend to do it and if they have the means to do it. Don’t leave them alone if they can answer both of these questions firmly. You can call the police and the person will be picked up and held for a 72 hour involuntary evaluation (in most states). Or, simply drive them to any hospital emergency room. Please do not ignore a cry of suicide.

gorillapaws's avatar

I’ve studied this stuff a bit in some abnormal psychology classes and everything on the subject I’ve read and learned from lectures all say that you ALWAYS need to take suicidally seriously. There are many dimensions to the problem, and a lot of myths out there about people who act out for attention versus actually go through with it. I can guarantee you that you don’t have the knowledge to assess how dangerous the situation is (because if you did you’d either be a PH.D or an MD and wouldn’t be asking people on Fluther).

It’s a bit like trying to diagnose a brain tumor from reading a list of symptoms on WebMD. Please get her some professional help.

bea2345's avatar

Err on the side of caution. However unbelieving you may be, however irritated, never even suggest, by word or action, that killing oneself is fine with you. Stable people do not ordinarily threaten suicide. You should seek professional advice. Have a word with her therapist about strategies to help you deal with her.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

I think if someone threatens suicide you have to take it seriously. If someone does it for attention, it doesn’t mean they won’t eventually carry through their suicidal promises.

TexasDude's avatar

Always. You can never be too careful.

Flavio's avatar

This is complicated, as the responses above suggest. I have a few thoughts, some drawn from personal experience and others drawn from my work as an inpatient psychiatrist at a public hospital. These thoughts may contradict, which demonstrates how difficult it is to tease these things apart.

1) suicide threats are always serious and dangerous.

2)Besides her age, here are some risk factors that would increase my level of anxiety if your mom were my patient: alcohol or other substance use, degree of participation in her psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy, previous attempt, family history of completed suicide/suicide attempts, diagnosis of bipolar or depression, poor social support, other life stressors (poor housing, precarious income, etc), hopelessness, despondency, impulsiveness. Of course, there are others and these are not absolute.

3) some factors that would reduce my anxiety: her female gender, tight family, religion, future plans, good-to-adequate self-grooming such as recent hair cuts/manicures/new clothes, etc, friendship network, fulfilling occupation. Of course, there are others and these are not absolute.

4) what does she gain when she threatens suicide? Does the act of threatening reduce some sort of existential anxiety or guilt? Does it gain her some positive or affirmative contact? Are there more adaptive ways to provide whatever she gains? Ways that are not so distressing to you.

5) What does she live for? The problem with suicide is not that it involves death, but that it means that the person did not fully live life. It also means that the people around them had to suspend fully living their life to care and process the suicide. Is she living fully? If not, why not?

6) How are you doing? How long have you taken responsibility for your mom’s mental state? Children (no matter what age) are not responsible for their parents’ happiness. We may take responsibility for organizing their meds, getting them to appointments, etc, but not their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with life. It is a deep and powerful betrayal when the child has to assume the parental role. Know that when I read your question I was deeply concerned for you, your development, and your present ability to live your life the way you want to live it.

7) Sometimes, despite are very, very best efforts, we can’t stop suicide. It crushes me when one of my patients completes suicide, but some people are difficult to reach.

8) Best thing you can do for her is make sure you are healthy and well enough to care for her if you need to. Dont burn out. Remember that you love her. Chose your actions from the principle that you love her and that she loves you and that you both want whats best for the other, even if nasty words are said, transiently.

9) Trust your gut, not your brain. If you are truly scared, call for help. If you feel she is bluffing, respond based on your tolerance for risk. Operate from your best intentions, let the pieces and consequences fall as they may later. Remember, in suicide, only one person chooses. Only one person bears responsibility. It is not the family’s fault, no matter how often you second guess every little thing you said or did.

10) If you mom does get admitted to a psych unit, go visit her daily, bring her clothes, food, stuff she likes. It’s OK to have public display of affection on psych units. It’s OK for families to cry (just don’t yell). Make sure she doesnt have a chance to forget/doubt you love her.

11) Should your family be the victim of suicide, god forbid, don’t stop living your life. Give tribute to your loved one and live as fully and as authentically as you possibly can.

Hope this helps.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Flavio so you’re saying that @jonsblond shouldn’t insist that the mother seek professional help? I’m surprised by this, but I’m not an expert, so I defer to those better educated on the subject than myself.

Sophief's avatar

I’m sorry your mum is feeling like this. You should take it very seriously. She might say it for years and never do anything, and then one day she could. You might not see anything when you look at her, but inside she is so much pain. Suicidal people can cover up their pain. I used to cut myself on my arms, then all the ignorant people told me I was attention seeking. That never even occured to me, it was just an easy place to do it. If it was attention seeking I would of stopped. I did stop, cutting on my arms, I now cut in other places. I think about suicide at least once a day. People think I am not serious, because I cover it up easy. But inside I have been crying for years and just want it to end. Listen to your mum, she doesn’t have to be crying all the time, and something can trigger off her depression feelings to bring it to the surface,and this is what you see. Please try to look deep and try to understand her.

Response moderated
meagan's avatar

People always talk about suicide for attention these days. Its sickening. I’ve heard it so much that I’ve grown weary of the subject.

Even my own mother uses guilt to try to make me feel bad. “Well maybe I’ll go get in a car accident and die”. People just say these sorts of things to make you feel bad. They want attention and to be coddled.

I don’t feed into the attention (which… is probably the wrong thing, but oh well). You should probably sit down with her, tell her shes important to you, do everything but wipe her own butt for a while, etc.

gorillapaws's avatar

@meagan “People just say these sorts of things to make you feel bad”

or because they’re calling out for help and might very well go through with it. The majority of people who actually go through with it have talked about it to someone first…

Suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the US, or were those people all just trying to make you feel bad?

meagan's avatar

@gorillapaws I’m sorry, but I’m not going to apologize for anything that I said. It may have been harsh, but its the truth. When someone is saying those things for attention, they shouldn’t be rewarded for doing so. Ever heard of the boy who cried wolf?

le_inferno's avatar

@meagan Uh, ever think they want help because their lives are about as enjoyable as drinking tar? People who are suicidal aren’t just histrionic drama queens. They want to end their lives because they’re miserably depressed. They don’t just want people to pay attention to them for the sake of it, they want to get help and support.

meagan's avatar

@le_inferno Not everyone that throws a fit and says lightly that they’ll kill themselves really means it. Really, you people are reading too much into this.

I really doubt that this woman is going to kill herself because she literally got into an argument with her daughter.

The question is—WHEN do you take a cry of suicide seriously. I wouldn’t take it seriously when a person is upset over one argument. I’ll take it seriously if the person has a history of mental disorders, depression, etc.

People, get off my back. I understand that some people have it hard. But a LOT of people use the threat of suicide just to gain attention.

Sophief's avatar

@meagan She could of been suffering depression for years, and this could of just triggered her emotions back into the fron of her mind. Depression is a serious illness, which unless you have been subjected to, you can never really understand. @jonsblond is wanting advice on how to help, plus the lady is in her 70’s, don’t think she is ‘crying wolf’.

meagan's avatar

@Dibley I’ve answered the question.

gorillapaws's avatar

@meagan “Not everyone that throws a fit and says lightly that they’ll kill themselves really means it.”

Of course they don’t, but here’s the thing, unless you’re a professional trained in this kind of stuff, the lay-person can’t make these calls about how seriously to take it. The factors involved are very complex, certainly more so than a simple internet post relayed via someone other than the suicidal person can capture.

Would you give the same advice to a younger person with chest pain? Yes, it’s most likely indigestion, or heart-burn etc, but there’s a reasonable chance it could be the symptom of a life-threateng condition, doesn’t it make sense to have a doctor take a look just so you know everything is ok? The cost of being wrong is very high; I certainly don’t have the arrogance to tell others to ignore warning signs when I don’t have all of the facts, especially when every piece of professional literature on the subject says to take it seriously.

meagan's avatar

@gorillapaws I’m some loser on the internet. Why is everyone taking what I’m saying so seriously? Its just my simple little opinion.

le_inferno's avatar

@meagan Jonsblond did say that her mother has been depressed. She’s not suicidal because of the argument; it seems rather that the argument was just a stressful catalyst that stirred up pre-existing suicidal thoughts.

Also, saying “I really doubt this woman is going to kill herself because she literally got into an argument with her daughter” is not the right way to use the word “literally.”

Aethelwine's avatar

My mother has been fighting depression most of her life, starting when her father died when she was sixteen. She has also had to deal with my father being unfaithful for most of their marriage. Just a few years ago she found out that he had spent all of their savings to support another woman. My parents had to file bankruptcy because of his infidelities. It has just been too much for my mother.

@le_inferno is right, the argument with my sister stirred up her feelings of inadequacy, and not feeling loved. She does need help, she just won’t listen to any of us that tell her this, and always comes up with some excuse as to why she can’t get the help she needs.

I didn’t get much sleep last night, so I will come back to this question when I can think clearly. I appreciate everyone taking the time to respond.

Flavio's avatar

@gorillapaws I would say @jonsblond has to take the treat very seriously and respond using his gut on whether to take his mom to the hospital or not. This is very complicated and each case is unique. It’s also important that he is able to sustain himself emotionally.

Buttonstc's avatar

This latest information you just gave is quite concerning.

You said that your Mom has been depressed most of her life. Has she ever had ANY type of treatment for that at all (either talk therapy or medication)?

Also, how did she deal with the knowledge of her husband’s infidelities ? The fact that they are still together would suggest to me that her basic way of dealing with some of life’s critical difficulties is by sweeping things under the rug, so to speak. I could be wrong, but that’s the impression I get.

Someone previously asked whether she is home alone. You mentioned that her husband is there with her.

However true that may be in the physical aspect of it, I find it difficult to imagine that she would be able to confide in him to any degree. That takes trust and I can’t imagine it’s there in any significant way after multiple infidelities. She may not be alone physically, but the impression I get is that she is profoundly alone emotionally and sitting on a lot of unresolved anger.

I hope you’ll respond and tell me my impressions are wrong, but I have a sinking feeling they aren’t too far off the mark.

There are other things I could say but I really don’t want to jump the gun with unfounded assumptions.

I’ll just leave off with one little definition of suicide given to me by a very experienced and wise Psychiatrist with 25+ years of experience. Simply put, suicide is rage turned inward.

Logically speaking then, that repressed anger must find a different and healthier outlet. Obviously that’s not as simple as it sounds, but it is imperative.

Do you have a therapist or other health provider who can more specifically advise you about your Mother’s current state ? This really isn’t something that you can handle alone for any length of time and you shouldn’t be expected to

Flavio was correct in his instincts that you need care and support also.

Your Mom is too wrapped up in her own needs and depression to realize how unfair a burden she is placing upon her children. But those of us looking from the outside can see that.

At some point I think some type of professional help will be necessary for this entire situation to begin to be resolved.

RedPowerLady's avatar

how are things, any change?

pinkgirl02's avatar

always take these things seriously.

Aethelwine's avatar

@Buttonstc My mother has taken medication, but she really needs someone outside of the family to talk to. When my mother came to me 10 years ago and told me about my father’s infidelities, she told me she never left my dad because she was afraid she would lose custody of me. Now that she is older, she’s afraid of being alone. She doesn’t drive, so it would be very difficult for her. My father is doing the best he can to show her how much he loves her, but she just can’t let go of the past. She turns to her wine and cigarettes for comfort. (always has)

To all of you that reminded me to take care of myself, thank you. The day after I asked this question I had to take myself to the ER. I have health problems that were worsened due to all of this stress. I listened to you and spent the past week taking care of me. I also talked to my mother, she is “hanging in there”. I keep reminding her that I, my children, and my husband love her and need her.

Thank you all for your help, kind words, and PM’s. It really means a lot to me.

Buttonstc's avatar

The first sentence you wrote is dead on. She definitely needs someone to confide in on a regular basis. I can certainly understand her reluctance to split from her husband, but sitting on all that unresolved anger producing baggage is so incredibly toxic.

I think your entire family should focus on finding a therapist for her as the primary goal. Otherwise it’s just going to be trying to avert one crisis time after another.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@jonsblond So glad you were able to get advice to take care of yourself and that you did so! Thank you for the update.

anartist's avatar

Your mother needs help.
And, this may surprise you, but older people who attempt suicide are more likely to succeed.
If your father is still there and wants to help, maybe he would go to couples therapy with her.

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