I was at a conference this year when a teenager came up to me and said – “Wait! You’re the suicide prevention lady, aren’t you? I have signed your petition!” I didn’t know how to react or what to say. I just smiled and nodded. We talked for a while and went our separate ways. I haven’t seen him since but what he said has stayed with me.
Suicide Prevention lady – I like the sound of that. In an age, where mental health issues are clearly on the rise, I don’t mind being that crazy lady who parades on the streets or over the internet in a bid to normalize talks surrounding suicide.
Why did I take up this cause?
In January this year, I lost my brother to this silent prey.
He was only 18 years old.
The months that followed were tough, to say the least. I was suffering from crippling anxiety, insomnia and grief all at once.
I was losing hope. That’s when a voice suddenly spoke to me. It was Raghav, from somewhere deep within. He told me – “Di, you can’t give up. Not yet.”
I knew I had to comply. I dove deep into research and was introduced to the quantum of the problem that India is facing – In 2016, it had the highest number of suicides and these numbers are only increasing every year.
This is when I decided to start a petition asking the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to launch a national helpline number for Suicide Prevention in India. It has received more than 2 lakh signatures till date.
Why do we need to talk about suicide?
Here are some facts that will help you understand why it’s so important, now more than ever to talk about this cause and raise awareness :
- We lose someone to suicide every 40 seconds globally!
- WHO lists suicide as one of the leading causes of death
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults (aged 15 – 29)
- Among teenagers aged 15-19 years, suicide is the second leading cause of death among girls (after maternal conditions) and the third leading cause of death in boys (after road injury and interpersonal violence)
- India has the highest suicide rate in South-east Asia as of September 2019.
- For each adult who died by suicide, there may have been more than twenty others attempting suicide.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
We also need to talk about suicide because five out of six people can be saved from it if they get the help they need which means lives can be saved! We don’t need a medical professional every time we see someone suffering. We can become the first line of defense and help our loved ones seek help.
Most of us are reluctant to get involved or act on it. We sometimes fail to see these warning signs, deny their meaning or brush it off. This is where the problem lies, this is why so many lives are lost every year.
This failure to recognize and respond to suicide warning signs stems from our lack of knowledge about the subject or our fear of it. For a person who is on the brink of ending his life, our failure to respond maybe wrongly interpreted as proof that we don’t care about what they do. In some cases, it may even be seen as permission to proceed.
Why do people find it tough to talk about suicide and intervene?
- FEAR AND DENIAL:
It is understandable that the very idea of someone wanting to die can be scary and frightening. A lot of us don’t know how to react when someone comes up to us and talks about wanting to take his/her life. The most natural reaction to this is fear and fear leads to denial. We try to deny these warning signs by telling ourselves that the person is only seeking attention and ” People who talk about suicide don’t actually do it.” This is a myth I would like to bust. People who have talked about contemplating suicide have indeed gone on to attempt or die by suicide.
- SHOCK AND ANGER:
The most disturbing conversation that you can have with a person is them expressing a wish to die. It is difficult to be on the listening end. Another very natural emotional reaction to this can be shock or anger. You could be angry at that person because they didn’t come to you sooner or the fact that they have everything going for them and are still unhappy. You could be angry because they are not thinking about their family or friends, they are being selfish and no problem could possibly be so serious. While these could be your immediate reactions, it is important to control them and listen to what your friend has to say to you.
- STIGMA AND TABOO:
Research shows that people including mental health professionals are uncomfortable talking about suicide. For most people, talking about suicide is more difficult than talking about sex. Our inability to talk openly about one of the leading causes of death is a direct result of the stigma surrounding suicide. Telling someone that you are contemplating suicide can be daunting and scary. No suicidal person can deny the guilt and shame he or she is likely to experience if their confession draws laughter and ridicule. This can push them over the edge.
How can you help?
Studies show that 8 out of 10 of those who attempt suicide give some warning signs – verbal, written or behavioral. These warning signs are often sent during the week preceding an attempt. You can prevent suicide by first understanding the warning signs, clues and suicidal communications of people who are suffering.
- Direct Verbal Clues:
- “I’ve decided to kill myself.”
- “I wish I were dead.”
- “I’m going to end it all.”
- “If (such and such) happens, I will kill myself.”
- Indirect Verbal Clues:
- “I’m tired of life.”
- “What’s the point of anything?”
- “My family would be better off without me.”
- “Who cares if I live or die?”
- “I can’t go on anymore.”
- “I just want out.”
- “Soon I won’t be around.”
- “You won’t have to worry about me any longer.”
- “Here, take this (cherished possession); I won’t be needing it.”
- Behavioral Clues:
- Preoccupation with death ( e.g. recurring themes of death or self-destruction in artwork or writings)
- Intense sadness or hopelessness
- Not caring about or showing interest in activities that used to matter
- Social withdrawal from family, friends, sports or social activities
- Substance abuse or alcoholism
- Self harm and other risky behavior
- Aggression and agitation
- Sleep disturbances (sleeping too much or not sleeping at all)
- Giving away possessions without any reasons
- Inability to think clearly and lack of concentration
- Declining performance at school or work
- Changes in appetite
- Situational Clues:
- Sudden rejection by a loved one
- A recent move, especially if unwanted
- Death of a spouse, child or close friend
- Terminal illness
- Sudden unexpected loss of freedom
- Financial loss
- Failure (in studies or at work)
In most cases, people who are suicidal will not reach out on their own because of one or more of the following reasons:
- They tend not to self-refer
- They tend to resist treatments
- They often use drugs or alcohol as psychological pain medication
- They try to mask or hide their level of despair
This is why it is so important to be proactive in asking someone if they are doing okay.
On the other hand, there are people who try to reach out and genuinely want to talk about their state of mind – DO NOT DISMISS THEM!
How to question a person about suicidal thoughts?
This is the most important bit of this article – How to ask that question? How to talk about it?
It can be awkward and difficult for a lot of us because of the taboo but the truth is you might be the best person to give your loved one the kind of support they need. Here are some ways to ask your friend if they have been struggling lately:
“Do you want to hang out?”
“What is the worst thing you are thinking or feeling right now?”
“Have you been unhappy lately?”
“How are you holding up?”
“Are you doing okay? You seem to be in a lot of pain.”
“You know, when people are as upset as you seem to be, they sometimes wish they were dead. I’m wondering if you’re feeling that way too?”
“Have you ever wanted to stop living?”
“Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
“How can I help you?”
If you feel that none of these questions “sound like you”, then please use whatever works best for you. Just start the conversation and let it flow.
With this, I would like to bust another myth – “Suicide is not preventable.” WRONG! Those who decide to take their own lives don’t do it because they want to die, they just want the pain to go away.
I get it, life can get too much sometimes, there will be at least two bad days for a good one. It can’t always be a happy daze but for reasons unknown to mankind, it almost always gets better. Whatever it is that you are going through, you are not crazy, you are not overreacting, you are not weak.
Remember that you are not alone in your pain! Your pain may be different from my pain but we are all hurting. Our unique pain is the very thing that connects us all.
Suicide prevention is everybody’s business. And I am counting on you.
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