Alert on 'cocoon' of calm ahead of suicide

Sat, Sep 8, 2012, 01:00

PEOPLE CONTEMPLATING suicide often enter a period of calm immediately before the event, causing friends and family to misread the symptoms, a leading GP has warned.

Dr Harry Barry highlighted the need for families to identify the “cocoon” that potential suicide subjects may slip into in order to identify the person in difficulty.

“The almost universal refrain from any family members bereaved by suicide is how the person in distress seemed so normal before the event,” Dr Barry told a conference organised by Console.

“Survivors looking back at the period before the attempt also struggle to explain how they behaved,” he said.

Before entering the cocoon, people may exhibit symptoms such as tiredness, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, agitation and withdrawal, he said.

“However, when in the cocoon they seem to become much calmer, their mood may even improve and previous distresses may seem to have settled down.”

Some may even make special efforts to visit family and friends, who may feel previous issues with mood or anxiety have been left behind.

Dr Barry said that by using cognitive behavioural therapy, those at risk can be identified earlier.

Australian suicide prevention specialist Susan Beaton told the conference the focus should alter from keeping people alive to helping them make a life worth living.

She criticised “a tyranny of business” that often distracted people, and said listening was often the most valuable gift we could offer others.

Dr Jerry Reed, director of the Suicide Prevention Resource Centre in the US, highlighted the central role of those bereaved by suicide in changing the national debate on the issue.

“You cannot change yesterday but you can, through your voice, change tomorrow,” he said. The selfless service and passion of the bereaved could act as an inspiration to others, he said.

Cllr Peter Roche, deputy mayor of Galway, told the conference about the death by suicide of his youngest son Colin in November 2010.

Mr Roche questioned the need to put bereaved families through the pain of intensive questioning as part of the postmortem process. He also criticised the “cold and calculated” language used on his son’s death certificate which described the cause of death simply as “hanging”.

Suicide was often a permanent solution to a temporary problem, he said, and many people with suicidal thoughts needed a shoulder to cry on rather than clinical support. Mr Roche, a Fine Gael councillor, said it was a “sad reflection” on society that adequate funding was not provided for groups working in the area.