In a news release leading up to World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out that “one person still dies every 40 seconds from suicide.” An estimated one million people die by suicide in a year. Ironically the suicide rate is highest in high-income countries.
To create awareness about suicidal behaviour as well as how to prevent it, September 10 was earmarked as WSPD in 2003. Since then countries have been encouraged to create a national suicide prevention strategy and host awareness events for the public. At the very basic level WSPD events offer communities an opportunity to have a conversation about a global health problem that we would rather not talk about.
We don’t need statistics and news reports to inform or remind us about this malaise that is largely caused by mental health issues. In reality, the sharp increase in suicide rates has brought the problem almost to our doorsteps. The Canadian Mental Health Association states that one in four people know of someone who has died by suicide. I’m heartbroken to acknowledge that I know one too many victims. The most recent was the nephew of an overseas friend. His reason for ending his life—several unsuccessful attempts at obtaining his medical degree. A real tragedy for his parents who previously lost a child to SIDS many years ago.
Though suicide claims people of all ages, it is the second leading cause of death among young people. Perhaps because they are the most fragile emotionally and socially. Most of the victims I’ve known have been in their youth. Academic failure, broken relationships and/or social anxieties being the main architects of their untimely demise. Understanding it is the person’s feelings about a situation and not the circumstance itself that contributes to suicide, is critical to saving a life.
Mental health experts say the first step to prevention is for the suicidal person to let someone in and talk about their feelings. We must listen without being judgemental. And contrary to popular belief, people who talk about suicide might actually go through with it. Medical research shows that every suicidal person gives some clue about their intentions. Rarely is it a spur of the moment decision. And although an individual may not openly ask for help that doesn’t mean they don’t need or want it.
Talking openly about suicidal thoughts can actually save a life. A teacher friend shared that they were instructed to use the word ‘suicide’ in conversations with at-risk students rather than be diplomatic. We should not be afraid to bring up the subject as asking questions isn’t putting ideas in their head.
Many suicidal people are afraid to reveal their intentions for the fear of being judged. Addressing the issue can be a huge relief and make them feel comfortable enough to talk about it. The next step is to get them professional help. Having said that, it is critical to evaluate the urgency of the situation while providing intervention.
Perhaps the hardest to identify and support are our own family members. It is easy to get angry with them for not putting things into the “right” perspective. However, if a loved one is severely depressed, it’s important to acknowledge the possibility that he or she may feel suicidal at some point. Minimizing their feelings or demeaning them can have catastrophic results. The focus must be on their emotions (rather than our own) and letting them know that we care. This means giving them full attention and listening without advising them (except to seek professional help) or promising that the conversation is just between you. What’s more if one is unsure about their intent, it’s still okay to ask. It shows you care.
Making sure the person is in a safe environment is an equally critical part of suicide prevention. This involves removing things that could be used to attempt suicide such as firearms, other weapons and medications.
It is estimated that each day in Canada, 10 people end their life and 250 make a suicide attempt. Suicide occurs across all age, economic, social, and ethnic boundaries. The worst thing we can do is ignore the problem or expect an individual to overcome it through sheer willpower.
Let’s get involved. It’s time to let our loved ones and friends know they are not alone in their struggles. Our support could mean the difference between life and death! -CINEWS