Brothers 19-year-old Farhan and 21-year-old Tanvir Towhid struggled with mental illness for years. Farhan, specifically, suffered from depression since he was in the ninth grade and had an extensive history of self-harm. 

He said his dad worked hard to try and help him while he was in high school in Allen. His life felt like it was turning around at one point. He got a girlfriend, made new friends and started attending the University of Texas at Austin.

“My life was perfect, but that didn’t change the fact that I was depressed,” Farhan wrote in an 11-page suicide note on Instagram. He posted it shortly before he and his brother killed their entire immediate family and then themselves on Saturday.

While the brothers’ plan ended in tragedy, it does shed light on the importance of mental health and suicide awareness. It also showcases a troubling rise among people suffering with mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Cami Fields, director of outreach and education for the Dallas-based non-profit Grant Halliburton Foundation, has come across many North Texas providers who have seen an increase in cases of depression and anxiety, especially among teens and kids. The foundation works to connect people with local mental health resources, and many of the hospitals it works with have seen an increase in admissions for those who attempted suicide. 

“Mental-health-related visits, in general, are just going up, and we can just see it across the board the amount of stress and anxiety [the pandemic] has added to their plate,” Fields said. “There’s so many kids that just haven’t experienced any issues with their mental health in the past that really are for the first time during this pandemic.”

Signs of Suicide

It’s important to note that repeated research has shown that the overwhelming majority of people with mental illness do not display violent behaviors or commit violent crimes, according to a medically reviewed article from VeryWellMind. 

Fields said when looking for signs of suicide, it’s best to look for things that are out of the person’s character. This could take a variety of forms, such as worsening depression or anxiety, loss of interest in things they would normally care about, rage or irritability, and the biggest one — feelings of hopelessness. 

How feelings of hopelessness show up in a suicidal person’s behavior vary as well and could include increased use of alcohol or drugs, acting recklessly, withdrawing from activities, isolating from family and friends, giving away possessions and, finally, making a suicide plan. 

There are also many risk factors for suicide, Fields said. These include those who have mental illness, substance use disorders, a history of trauma and abuse, had prior suicide attempts, engage in self-harm, have access to guns or pills and have recently experienced a loss of some sort — a job, loved one or school. 

It’s also crucial to pay attention to what the potentially suicidal person is saying, texting or posting on social media. Fields said to be on the lookout for things about being a burden to others, feeling trapped and not having a reason to live. And if someone explicitly says that they want to kill themselves or want to die, even if they claim it’s a joke, that’s a huge red flag. 

“We always want to take that seriously because you don’t know if someone might be hiding behind that joke,” Fields said.

How You Can Help: TAG

If you start to notice some of these signs of suicide in someone you know, refer to the Grant Halliburton Foundation’s acronym TAG — take it seriously, ask questions and get help. 

The first step encompasses sitting the person down for a one-on-one conversation to explain why you’re concerned about them, Fields said. Then ask them how they’re feeling and if they will talk to you about what’s going on. But most importantly — listen to them and offer positive reassurance.

“Don’t interrupt, don’t judge, don’t act shocked or angry at them for what they’re feeling, just allow them to talk and vent about what’s going on,” Fields said.

The second step in the acronym is the hardest, Fields said. After listening to the person and giving them time to vent, you must ask the question: “Do you sometimes feel so bad that you think about suicide?” While it may sound overly direct, and there are many myths that asking someone about suicide will put the thought into their head, this is “completely unsubstantiated” because talking about it is the first step to getting help, Fields said. 

And if the person says they do have thoughts of suicide, you must ask follow-up questions so you can get a feel for the urgency of the situation, Fields said. For example, you should ask if they’ve thought about how they would do it, when they would do it and if they’ve made a plan. The answers to these questions will help you decipher if the situation only requires a psychologist or an emergency room visit.

Finally, help the person get the help they need. If the situation is not an imminent threat to that person’s life, and they aren’t thinking about suicide and just struggling with mental illness, it’s best to persuade them to get a mental health checkup to be safe. 

However, if the person tells you they are thinking about suicide, there are a few things you can do. The first is if you don’t think you can keep that person safe and they are in imminent danger, take them to the nearest emergency room. From there, the licensed clinicians will be able to figure out what their best course of action is. If you don’t know where an emergency room is, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which connects to the GPS on your phone and can point you in the direction of your nearest emergency room. 

But if you can’t take them to the emergency room for whatever reason, you can call 9-1-1 and ask for the mental health crisis intervention team to come out. 

“We talk about if you’re feeling depressed, if you’re thinking about suicide, make sure you reach out to someone, make sure you’re talking to someone,” Fields said. “Sometimes people don’t have the capacity to do that when they’re in that frame of mind. So it’s really the community’s job and their loved one’s job to reach in and really seek those people out that they think might be struggling.”

Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Resources

If you’re having thoughts of suicide, the best thing you can do is talk to someone about it to relieve your mind from carrying that secret around, Fields said. However, if you don’t have someone in your life you feel comfortable talking to, there are a plethora of people willing to listen:

For resources focused on finding local mental health care, here are some options:

  • Grant Halliburton Foundation. To reach the foundation’s mental health navigation line, call 972-525-8181. Trained navigators will help connect you to the appropriate resources in your area.
  • Collin County Counseling. Call 469-219-3256 to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with a McKinney-based counselor.
  • Dallas Metrocare Services. Call 877-283-2121 to learn about mental health care resources near you.

Bailey Lewis

Bailey Lewis recently graduated from the University of Oklahoma and served as The OU Daily's news editor and enterprise editor. Previously, she was a summer 2020 news intern at the Malheur Enterprise,...