Understanding the terror of suicide and how to help a suicidal person


“Attention seeker”

“I’m also in your shoes”

“I had it worse but here I am”

“I failed several times but nothing happened. I’m still alive”

“I have a bad marriage too, so what’s your problem”

“You can’t go through with it, weakling!”

“You’re just ungrateful for life”

“You’re not the only one feeling the bad economy”

Each time a person talks about their misfortune, somehow, we instinctively want to acknowledge that pain by relating it to our situation. Sometimes, it’s not done out of spite. Sometimes, it’s out of fear or confusion. I remember a day in my childhood when I crossed a busy road without looking, and almost got hit by a truck. When I got to the other side, my mum landed a big “abara” across my back (good ol’ African smacking). I was so confused as to why she did it. But as I grew, I understood that she didn’t do it to hurt me intentionally. She was genuinely scared, and that was her reaction. The point is, when we’re scared and confused as to how to handle a situation, we react in a way that might hurt the person we’re looking out for. However, that’s not ruling out the fact that some people are just plain insensitive.

I lost a friend to Suicide a year ago, and every day, I wish it didn’t happen. I wish I knew she was battling with her mind. I wish I was available to help. While I understand that all these regrets won’t bring her back, it doesn’t reduce the level of pain I feel each time I remember.

MJ or known as mama J wasn’t depressed or suffering from a mental illness. She got overwhelmed with bills, got frustrated, held on to a horrible marriage because her church encouraged suffering and praying and holding on to a cheating, abusive, and quite useless husband. On a hot Sunday, she came back from church, got a bottle of pesticide and drank the content. Apparently, she had been talking about being tired of everything but each time she said it, people around (my grandmother included) would say “It is well o. Everybody is just tired o. This Nigeria is hard”. When she overdosed on pills in her workplace, her colleagues said she did it to get a raise as life is hard for everyone too. “No need to kill yourself over unpaid rent abeg”. When she died, they posted pictures of her with captions of how sweet she was. Na so e dey happen.

I wish they knew that sometimes, people end their lives out of frustration. I wish they knew that even though everyone has it rough, people don’t have the same level of resilience. It’s just like an alcohol threshold. One time, I got drunk and sat quietly in a corner for a full hour. My roommate on the other hand, danced and practically raped the floor, then danced around with so much energy before throwing up on her bed. What doesn’t kill you might make you stronger but push your friend under.

I’m not sure one can understand suicide if you’ve not really tried to end your own life. As someone who has attempted it more than twice, I’d say it’s a very liberating, scary, and frustrating task. One moment, you’re sure. The next, you’re not so sure anymore. The first time I attempted it, I was so sure I needed to go away. So I overdosed on my Antipsychotics. When I started getting cold feet (My feet was literally getting cold) and my chest felt heavy, I clumsily picked my phone and tried to reach out for help.

A friend told me a while ago “Sometimes, you don’t really want to die. You just don’t want to feel the pain anymore”. When you reach a point a despair, your mind is clouded to the point where you don’t see any other way out. So you don’t hear that “Suicide is not an option”. You don’t hear that “Keep going”. Just like David Foster’s quote about Suicide and hopelessness, nobody understands the terror of jumping like the person who makes the jump. “You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling”

I see a lot of people say “So why did they let the world know before they tried it. They’re simply not ready to die” and other awful comments, so I asked a friend who had updated her Whatsapp status moments before attempting Suicide why she made it known. Her response was “I was so tired. I just wanted people to know I had tried to hold on for so long. I also wanted some assurance. I needed someone to let me know there was something worth living for. Even when I really just wanted to die. It’s very weird but I sort of needed reassurance, and there’s a thrill in knowing that you’d take your own life. It’s the same thrill you feel when you take a dope picture and see the ‘finish upload’ tick before it’s posted on Instagram”

Here’s a quick fact about Suicide. Most people who have suicidal thoughts do not carry them through to their conclusion. Yup. It’s very true, and I can see why some people might shame someone who isn’t successful with an attempted suicide. The shame might make the suicidal person try it again. It’s similar to a do or die affair. You either help the person get better or worsen the whole thing. You see, suicidal thoughts are common, and many people experience them when they are undergoing stress, bad economy, heartbreak, frustration, grief or experiencing depression. So dear internet people, LET PEOPLE SPEAK UP! LET THEM EXPERIENCE THEIR PAIN THEIR OWN WAY BECAUSE YOU COULD NEVER UNDERSTAND BEING IN ANOTHER PERSON’S SHOES. You can relate, but understand? I’m not so sure.

The internet tells people to get help. “If you are suffering from depression or are suicidal, don’t suffer in silence” yet attack them as soon as they speak up. “Nobody is perfect” yet you expect perfection.

I’d like to share few things you can do when someone says they’re suicidal (even when it’s on Twitter and you feel the person is trying to seek attention. This is because you really can’t say when a suicidal ideation is real. And I understand that sometimes people genuinely want to help but don’t know what to do, so here goes:

  • Put religious sentiments aside and try to avoid saying “It is well, you’ll be fine, God forbid, You’re too strong for this, you’ll overcome, you just need money” I know those are the Nigerian first aid help phrases, so avoid them. I can truly tell you they don’t help that much. I’d just roll my eyes as a suicidal person.

  • Get a close friend or family member to reach out to them or stay with them till that feeling passes.

  • Send them sweet and encouraging text messages, tell them they can rant to you, tag @MentallyAwareNG on social media (if it’s an emergency) to reach out to them. Now, if your friend confides in you and it’s not an emergency, please, don’t go posting their names on social media seeking for help. You can reach MANI to help you with what to say or how to get through to your loved one.

  • Be quiet and don’t interject when they’re talking to you. Don’t try to sound smart or woke or religious. They won’t get it or it might just irritate them. Also, don’t leave them alone for long.

  • Try to make them see a counselor or psychologist afterwards. (I had a friend who told me his heart skipped a beat when I told him to speak with a therapist. You can be subtle and say “Would you like to speak with someone who might understand better and is trained to make you feel better. You can always still rant and talk to me. I’ll be here. But it’ll mean so much to me if you do”) Don’t say you understand when you don’t.

  • Avoid saying things like ‘you have so much going on for you’ ‘you have a good job’ or you have money na or ‘others have it worse’ as It makes their pain seem insignificant, and by saying that, you’re either going to make them feel ashamed or angry, and they’ll either stop communicating with you or end up carrying out the suicidal attempt much later.

  • Be kind to everyone. You don’t know what they’re going through. One insensitive word can trigger harmful thoughts. Not everyone looks like what they’re going through. BE KIND TO PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY ON THE INTERNET. IT’S ABSOLUTELY FREE.

In summary, let people speak their truth, be empathic and sensitive to other people’s pain. You may have it worse, you may have failed Jamb 20 and 1 times, you may have lost your parents earlier than Arya stark, you may be in a broken marriage, you may have lost your job just last week, you may be running at a business loss, you may be battling with a mental illness, you may be planning a difficult breakup, you may be on the onset of a relapse, I just want to say I’m sending you love, light, and truckloads of virtual hugs. Share with others too, help them get help, let them speak!



Shola Ajayi

Culled from Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative

*If you or anyone you know is facing depression and/or suicidal thoughts, please call these numbers 08091116264, 08062106493, 08092106493.