"People who commit suicide are cowards.”
“People who commit suicide are selfish and take the easy way out.”
These are the common but unreasonable beliefs that our society holds, and in some respect promotes, towards suicides. So what makes it necessary for us to look into a behaviour our society labels “cowardly” and “selfish”? Why is understanding suicide important?
It is because as you are reading this article, according to WHO (World Health Organization), in some parts of the world, suicide is taking at least one life every 40 seconds. Which is 800,000 people every year. Being a topic less talked about, stigmatised and criminalised in the country, suicide has drawn much attention this year, making it the lead concern on World Mental Health Day for the World Health Organization.
Knowing the person who wants to die
Research studies have shown that an unrealistic sense of hopelessness is one of the crucial factors a suicidal mind fosters. An actively suicidal person has thoughts dominated by pervasive, pessimistic vision. As their thoughts are clouded by irrationality, and distortion, they cannot point out any memories of joy and satisfaction of the past.
They erroneously consider themselves as forever miserable. Thus the decision to commit suicide stems from the thought that their mood will never improve. So, their only escape from the unbearable and unending suffering becomes suicide.
Stigma galvanising suicide
When stigma exists in society, it bars every possibility to solve a problem. People are restrained from sharing anything because of the prevailing stigma. Regarding suicide as an act of cowardice or selfishness, or any other name-calling, just makes the scenario worse, making the person who already considers himself hopeless feel weaker. When a person with suicidal thoughts cannot reach out to people and share them, it fuels his suffering and sense of hopelessness. There are some misbeliefs denoted by WHO that belie the reality of suicide: i) Once someone is suicidal, he or she will always remain suicidal. Fact: Suicidal thoughts are not permanent and someone who has them can be treated and can go on to live a long life; ii) Talking about suicide is a bad idea and can be interpreted as encouragement. Fact: Talking openly can give an individual an option or the time to rethink his or her decision; iii) Only people with mental disorders are suicidal. Fact: Suicidal behaviour indicates deep unhappiness but not necessarily mental disorders; iv) Suicides happen suddenly without warning. Fact: The majority of suicides have been preceded by warning signs, whether verbal or behavioural; v) People who talk about suicide do not mean to do it. Fact: People who talk about suicide may be reaching out for help or support; and vi) someone who is suicidal is determined to die. Fact: Access to emotional support at the right time can prevent suicide and make the person want to live on.
An alarm for adolescents and youth
We saw the rate of suicide among school to university students grow in recent years. Common causes exhorting suicide have been: anxiety and depression, significant academic pressure, family problems, trauma and societal pressure. The global scenario is the same. According to WHO, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 years old. Hence comes the necessity of child emotional hygiene which may lead to sound mental health throughout life.
One hindrance is when parents do not want to acknowledge the fact that suicide can be an issue for their children, when, in reality, it could be an issue for any individual of any family at any time. Once they acknowledge it, their first step should be to talk to the children about suicide and open the first door of communication. When you are open to this issue, your children learn that it is not something they should keep secret and eventually they can bring up the topic in the future and reach out to you for help.
Educational institutions are no less important than home in promoting good mental health. No matter how good emotional regulation a child learns at home, if the institution, where he/she spends one third of their day, lacks cooperation, we can in no way expect progress in the field of mental health. Though some developments have been noticed in the national policy, we are struggling to implement them effectively.
What we can do as individuals
A global issue as extensive as suicide may seem insoluble, but its prevention can be possible on an individual level. There is a misconception that only a mental health professional can help a suicidal person. But when a person faces such a risk, we cannot wait for a professional to intervene. Hence, it is a great relief that anyone can provide the first aid to suicide.
Empathy is at the core of helping a person with a suicidal mentality. When you presume someone is considering suicide or notice any warning signs, the first thing to do is to start a conversation and let the person know that you care for them. There is no alternative to asking a person directly whether he/she is thinking about suicide. A person who has decided to give up on life, and thus is already vulnerable, requires the emotional-support giver to be non-judgemental and sensible toward them. Sometimes distraction helps (such as going out for coffee or having a stroll) as the urge to die attenuates momentarily, but it is not a permanent solution to suicidal thoughts as they might recur. One cardinal point to bear in mind during this time is that there should be no confidentiality when there is an emergency safety concern. So, in an inauspicious situation, the support giver must ask for help whether to parents or to a professional.
Looking at the big picture, we may feel dismal, as the daunting statistical figures are getting even more horrible with each passing year. But the collective effort of individuals can play a big part in suicide prevention. Our own part of communicating with others in a proper way, practicing emotional hygiene, overcoming the stigma through awareness can be the impetus to not only suicide prevention, but also to overall mental well-being.
Tasnim Rahman Nira is program manager, Identity Inclusion.