“Look for every opportunity to encourage someone. You don’t know who is wrestling with demons that could end his or her life that day. A kind word comes from God. Be brave enough to act on it” ― Aaron Behr
September 10 is observed as World Suicide Prevention Day every year and the theme for this year is ‘Working Together to Prevent Suicide”. Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge and every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds (International Association for Suicide Prevention, 2020), which is why the theme talks about a collective effort to address the issue. According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the most common warning signs include: • Feeling like a burden to others • Sleeping too little or too much • Acting anxious or agitated and behaving recklessly • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs • Talking about feelings of hopelessness • Searching for methods online • Talking about wanting to die • Withdrawing or feeling isolated • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
This time of the year, we witnessed a lot of FM radio programmes, social networking sites and, numerous write-ups on suicide prevention in which professionals working in the field have consciously address the issue and most importantly created awareness for all to know. The challenged has reached its peak with the ongoing pandemic leaving the world shattered with no clear stand of how the future will be like. While we hear of people in and around us suffering from many types of physical ailments and sympathize with them, we, however, have chosen to be indifferent in many ways when we hear of news with regard to mental diseases. The stigma is undeniably very high for discussion in the open. If we try to understand mental illness, it can occur to anyone and everyone very unexpectedly. What is important is to be sensitive towards such behaviour(s) of our near and dear ones and if they are acting awkwardly than usual. Suicide, for instance, is the result of a convergence of genetic, psychological, social and cultural and other risk factors, sometimes combined with experiences of trauma and loss (International Association for Suicide Prevention, 2020).
So, how do we react, when we realized that the person we know of is not the usual self as he/she used to be? How do we face a situation when we feel it is getting out of hand? In such circumstances, we need to remind ourselves that we can reach out for help. It can be a friend, a family member, a teacher, a colleague and any person whom we can approach. Reaching out for help is what many are hesitant. Identifying a person whom we can talk to and express yourselves can do wonders. Having professional counsellors in a workplace, in educational institutions, in hostels, in churches, in corporates, in community setups is the need for the hour as such experts can also aware on mental health issues and how to respond/tackle them, should it occur to anyone. I still recall the one month experience that I had many years ago, in CMC’s Department of Psychiatry, situated on the Christian Medical College Campus at Bagayam, Vellore whereby I got to interact with inmates from all works of life and to understand the issues that they were going through. There was an IT employee who did not know how to handle work pressure, a boxer who was very ambitious and was keen to win every match which became almost like an obsession, a housewife who was over sociable and another inmate who was into substance abuse. They seek help at the right time and were cured. Of course, the treatment encompasses therapies conducted by the occupational therapist, counselling sessions, medication and support from family members, hospital staffs and medical team. Research has shown that if mental illness is diagnosed at a very early stage, the cure for such illness is also very fast. However, what is important to note is the lack of sensitizing of such illness that is rampant in all societies. While educational institutions are making efforts to discuss many issues related to youth, adolescents and their well being, a certain component on mental illness and diseases may be incorporated in such modules for our young ones to be familiarized with such illnesses and be able to report cases to their elders if they come across any. Awareness is the keyword here.
In a study conducted by the Boston Children’s Hospital, it stated that suicide crosses all age, racial, and socioeconomic groups. In the United States, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among children and adolescents ages 10-24, and the 3rd leading cause of death among 12-year-old kids. Nearly one of every eight children between the ages 6 and 12 has suicidal thoughts. A friend psychiatrist shared with me once that many parents come to him to talk about their kid’s behaviour is very different from others, only to realize that those kids require medical attention, therapies and medication. The belief that mental illness can happen only to adults and grown-up is a wrong notion and it is necessary to discuss, learn and accept mental illness as one of its kind that needs attention. Approximately 90% of people who have died by suicide were suffering from a mental illness at the time. The most common mental illness reported was depression. Impulsivity and substance use, including alcohol and drugs, are also warning signs for elevated suicide risk. It is important to remember that suicidal thoughts and behaviours are not the natural consequence of serious life stresses. People who experience a stressful life event may feel intense sadness or loss, anxiety, anger, or hopelessness, and may occasionally have the thought that they would be better off dead. In most people, however, experiences of stressful life events do not trigger recurring thoughts of death, creation of a suicide plan, or intent to die. If any of these are present, it suggests that the person is suffering from depression or another psychiatric disorder and should seek professional treatment (Boston Children’s Hospital, 2020).
The cure to mental illness may be lifetime medication, constant counselling, constant monitoring and so on . . . but what is very important in all that has been mentioned, is immense love, care and support to such individuals, reassuring them that life will all be good again and that the phase that they are going through will come to pass sooner than expected. Mental illness of any kind needs support from family members and this may be looked at from many angles – not leaving them by themselves, not making them feel judge, loving them, spending time with them, taking care of their food intake and appearance. All of these can do magic with the medical attention that one requires. Preventing suicide is possible and all of us can be key players in its prevention. As members of the community, as a child, as a parent, as a friend, as a colleague or as a neighbour, there are many things that we can do to prevent suicidal behaviour. Raising awareness about the issue, educate ourselves and others about the causes of suicide and warning signs for suicide, show compassion and care for those who are in distress in your community, question the stigma associated with suicide, suicidal behaviour and mental health problems are some of the prime involvement that all can be part of.
We have a responsibility towards our fellow humans, let us actively join hands to ease life by being more alert of such illnesses and connect with experts in the field because one helping hand can save many precious lives!
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])