Suicide prevention – could you save someone’s life?


When someone you know or love commits suicide, they leave behind many unanswered questions and a huge burden of guilt. Why did I not realise they were thinking about taking their own life? What clues did I miss? Could I have said or done something to prevent this?

No matter how close you are to someone, you are not responsible for preventing their suicide. Sometimes there are no clues; in fact, the person may have seemed happier in the preceding days or weeks. This is typical of someone who has made up their mind to end things. Reaching a decision brings a sense of peace that makes them appear calm and care-free.

But others talk openly about their feelings, or say things like, “I’d be better off dead.” Older people, especially those who have lost their spouse or a close friend, or who are in pain or disabled, may tell you outright that they have no reason to live, or that they are thinking of suicide. Take it as a cry for help and take action – and you could prevent a suicide.

Suicide Prevention – be aware of these triggers

Everyone goes through challenging times during their lives. But as people age, there are extra challenges that make them feel that life is not worth living. Here are some common triggers:

1. Loss of a Loved One
When a spouse, dear friend, family member or pet dies, the feelings of grief and loneliness are especially devastating to older people, who have fewer opportunities and less time to ‘start over’.

2. Integrity vs Despair (Eric Erikson)
“Sometimes elders may look back at life and either feel satisfied that their life was well-lived (integrity) or regretting choices and missed opportunities (despair).”

3. Financial Hardship
Seniors may be unable to work, have inadequate retirement savings, or face unexpected medical expenses – all of which can lead to fear and hopelessness.

4. Isolation and Loneliness
Social isolation and loneliness take a toll on mental health. Elders who lack a strong support network may feel disconnected, empty and unfulfilled.

5. Health Challenges
Being diagnosed with a degenerative disease, cancer, or a severe health condition can be emotionally devastating. Fear of physical pain, disability, or burdening loved ones can lead to thoughts of suicide.

6. Loss of Independence
As people age, they may experience a loss of independence, needing assistance with daily tasks they once did effortlessly. This can be emotionally distressing.

When someone you know drops hints about taking their own life, it can be very upsetting. You may not know whether to take them seriously. Or wonder whether speaking about it could make things worse. But, when someone is in the depths of despair and life feels unbearable, having someone reach out or recognise their feelings can make all the difference.

Tell-tale behaviour

Sometimes it’s not what the person says, but what they do, that sets off the warning bells. Tell-tale behaviour could include:

  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Drinking more, or taking drugs
  • Changes in routines, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Mood swings
  • Giving away belongings
  • Saying final goodbyes to people
  • Risky behaviour, like driving dangerously or taking drugs and alcohol together
  • Stockpiling pills

What to do

Urge your loved one to seek help from a mental health professional, doctor, support group, crisis centre or priest – or contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group for help. If necessary, make the appointment on their behalf, or offer to go with them.

If your loved one lives at one of our Tafta residences, please share your concerns with us immediately.