It is a fact that incidents of suicide are increasing, and are also gaining increasing recognition. In fact, over the past few months, there has been a lot of talk about suicidality within the context of media reports, and so on. A lot of these conversations have focused on why something unfortunate like this happens, and who is to blame (if at all)… and all these conversations happen in retrospect after such an incident comes to the limelight.
Each year, since 2003, 10th September has been observed as World Suicide Prevention Day globally. The findings of a WHO study in 2012 reported that suicide accounted for 1.4% of all deaths worldwide, making it the 15th leading cause of death. So, we all should be aware of the facts and figures associated with suicides. And, consequently, we must know what role we can play to prevent it, right?
However, unfortunately, the very word ‘suicide’ itself is shrouded by stigma, as well as a lot of stigma and myths. One of the most significant ones, in my opinion, is that ‘hushed tone’ used to talk, or rather, avoid talking about suicides. But does that help in working towards suicide prevention? I don’t think so!
Busting Myths about Suicides
- Talking to a person about suicide is not a taboo! Having such a conversation is not to suggest suicide as an option to the person, but it is to be able to help the person consider the existence of alternative options. Remember, in all likelihood, a person who is contemplating suicide is doing so because he or she is not able to find any other resort.
- Could you have known that this is what the person was going to do? Yes, mostly there are warning signs that suggest that someone might be contemplating suicide. Unlike popular belief, acting out on suicidal ideation is not always an impulsive decision. More often than not, suicide happens as a well-thought-out decision. Therefore, there are warning signs we can be on the lookout for, which could help us preempt and then possibly prevent suicides. Some of these warning signs could include
- Making statements like ‘I hate my life’; ‘What difference would it make, nothing matters anymore’; ‘There is just no way out of this’; ‘It would be better for everyone if I were not here’; etc.
- Sudden changes in the person’s mood, with extreme feelings of anxiety, anger, jealousy or revenge.
- Isolating self from family and friends, with feelings of purposelessness, hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness.
- Giving away precious possessions, looking for lethal or poisonous objects like knives, ropes, pills etc, or a sudden and excessive fascination with death/suicide-related music, movies or literature.
- Indulging in risk-taking behaviour like reckless driving, increased alcohol or drug use, etc.
- If a person is talking about suicide, we must not be dismissive or ignorant of this as an attention-seeking tactic. Instead, recognise the fact that this might be a warning sign, and therefore, we need to be vigilant and need to take them seriously, to be able to evaluate the risk factors and address the situation. Not only can they give clues about impending suicidal behaviour but, more often than not, they are desperate cries for help by the individual.
- A suicidal attempt is not a sign of weakness, nor is it a sign of bravery or courage. It is simply a reflection of the mental state of an individual who is experiencing despair, distress as well as hopelessness. Depression, like any other medical illness, has a biological underpinning in the role of neurotransmitters like serotonin in the brain. Therefore, it requires the irreplaceable role of a mental health expert for its treatment.
Empower Ourselves: What Can We Do?
Besides being able to be on the lookout for the warning signs and symptoms enlisted above, it is also important for us to know how to and more importantly, how not to react and respond to someone who might be harbouring suicidal thoughts. The following are some tips that could be helpful to keep in mind:
- Provide a listening ear – Yes, it can be very distressing to talk to someone who might be contemplating suicide. But the most important thing you can do is be a good listener, stay calm, and just give the person a chance to talk without being judged.
- Provide reassurance – No, you need not be able to offer a guarantee saying that everything will be alright (because that’s not in anyone’s’ control!). But remember, that in all likelihood, the person doesn’t want to end his or her life but is considering this as a last resort. Often their anger, pain or frustration is so overwhelming that it prevents them from seeing any other way of putting an end to their misery. So, we need to be able to give them an assurance of there simply being another option (there always is, even if we can’t see it at the moment).
- Don’t interrogate – Don’t be judgmental, preachy or critical. You don’t always have to give advice. If the person is talking to you, it means that he or she is being able to trust you. Respect this trust and courage, and do not be dismissive.
- Be empathetic – Acknowledge the person’s experience, their distress and pain. Show them your genuine concern, that you care, and make an effort to understand what they are going through, rather than providing advice and words of wisdom.
- Be vigilant and detoxify the environment – It is important to explore the risk factors as much as you can. If the person is at risk for suicide, it is ideal to not leave them alone. All dangerous items that are potentially harmful including sharp objects, pills, and poisonous substances need to be removed from the person’s reach. He or she should not have access to the balcony or the terrace alone either.
- Seek professional advice – It is crucial to seek help from a mental health professional at the earliest to prevent any untoward incident. Suicidal thoughts and intents are very often associated with a treatable mental disorder like depression for which the role of professional treatment is undeniable.
Conclude: Let’s Work towards a Preventive Approach!
Yes, suicide is mostly preventable. Therefore, we all need to join hands to create a sensitized awareness about suicides, bust myths, educate people about the signs and empower them to know how to respond to these signs.
We need to encourage models working on resilience building, social skills training, enhancing strong social support systems and connectedness within the community, to help promote adaptive coping mechanisms. Further, we need, now more than ever, a national suicide prevention policy to be implemented, especially in schools and colleges. It is the need of the hour to make mental healthcare and support available, and easily accessible, encouraging mental health to become a priority!