World Suicide Prevention Day: Why Suicide and How Can it be Prevented?
Identify the risk factors, warning signs, and preventive measures to help stop suicides
Globally, World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on September 10. It’s a grave and ever-increasing problem, and the statistics present an appalling scenario. The latest data from WHO highlights that more than 700000 people die by suicide yearly, which is one individual every 40 seconds. What’s even shocking is that behind each suicide, there are over 20 suicide attempts. And at present, it is the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds world-over. Though suicides have a similar impact in all regions of the world, 77% of them happen in low- and middle-income countries.1
These numbers are too high and indicate the need for urgent intervention by medical professionals, friends, family, and the whole community. It is no wonder that an exclusively dedicated day, World Suicide Prevention Day, was started by the International Association for Suicide Prevention to promote action to avert suicides, raise awareness around the problem, and reduce the stigma attached to suicide in society.2 In line with this objective, the triennial theme for this year is “Creating Hope Through Action,” which signals to individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts that there is hope and that we care and want to support them.3
But amidst all of this, the critical question that strikes us is what exactly drives people to commit suicide. Or what are the situations – risk factors – that increase an individual’s risk of suicide? Let’s find out.
Factors Contributing to Suicide Risk
- Has attempted suicide in the past
- Has a disabling or terminal illness or long-term pain
- Has a mental health problems
- Has feelings of hopelessness
- Has aggressive or impulsive behavior
- Has substance abuse problems
- Has easy access to self-harm tools like medications or firearms
- Has lost a relationship(s) due to death, divorce, or breakup
- Has a history of emotional or physical abuse; avoidance, or bullying
- Has a family history of death due to suicide
- Lacks support and is socially isolated
- Holds a general belief that suicide is a noble cause to resolve a personal problem
- Is ashamed to seek help from mental health professionals or family members
- Lacks access to mental health and substance abuse treatment
- Is aware of an increased number of local suicides or has excessive exposure to media coverage reporting suicidal deaths
While men are more likely to die by suicide than women, the latter is twice as likely to attempt suicide. However, not all suicide attempts result in death. Many of these attempts are often a cry for help and are made in a manner that makes rescue possible. This brings us to another important question; are there any common suicide warning signs? If yes, what are they? Let’s identify.4
Recognizing Suicidal Behaviour
- Sudden calmness
- Prolonged sad or moody behavior
- Isolation from friends, family members, and colleagues
- Changes in appearance, personality, and sleep pattern
- Portraying dangerous or self-harming behavior
- Experiencing life-altering trauma or crisis
- Being in a condition of deep despair
- Talking about escaping home and work
- Losing interest in activities that were once enjoyable
- Preparing ways to take one’s own life
- Mentioning death or suicide, or the desire to hurt themselves
Not everyone who is considering suicide will show either of these signs. Also, not everyone who shows these signs will follow through with it. Yet, it is essential to take every possible sign or threat of suicide seriously.
Suicide Preventive Measures
The urgency to act to prevent suicides has been prioritized and recognized at the highest levels. The WHO states that it aims to reduce the global suicide rate by one-third by 2030.5 If you know someone who is at immediate risk of suicide, self-harm or hurting another person:
- Ask the difficult question, “Are you suicidal?”
- Lend a helping hand without judgment
- Try to hide or remove any threatening medications, weapons, or other harmful objects
- Try not to dismiss what you are witnessing
- Stay with the person until help arrives
- Respond with empathy
- Get professional help immediately
- Focus on creating hope
The Role of Family and Friends in Preventing Suicide
Family members and friends can play a major significant in preventing suicide by helping the mental healthcare service provider in the early detection and management of the person at risk. To attain this goal, those in the support group (family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances) must be well-informed on how to prevent suicide. Here’s what the support members should do when one of its members is suicidal:
- Be sympathetic, calm, patient, and non-judgmental.
- Be yourself – don’t try to be a psychologist. Just be genuine.
- Ensure the method opted by the person is inaccessible
- Make everyone in your family and friend circle aware of the person’s suicide crisis so they can stay alert and help in the best way possible
- Offer hope – let the person know there is hope and the feelings they are experiencing are temporary.
- Get in touch with a mental health institution so that the recipient can receive immediate professional care.6
Those who receive support from family and friends and get access to mental health services on time are less likely to spiral into their suicidal impulses as compared to those who are isolated from support.
What are the Treatment Options for People Experiencing Suicidal Thoughts?
Treatment options for suicidal thoughts and behavior vary from case to case, which factors into the level of suicide risk and underlying issues that may be evoking these thoughts and behavior. For those with suicidal thoughts but aren’t in a crisis, the following outpatient treatment options may help:
- Psychotherapy: Involves psychological counselling or talk therapy that helps manage emotions effectively.
- Addiction Treatment: Involves treatment and detoxification for alcohol or drug addiction encompassing programs and self-help group meetings.
- Medications: Antipsychotic medications, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and other medications for mental illnesses can help control symptoms.
- Family Support and Education: As loved ones can be a great source of support and conflict, having them involved in treatment can help them understand the condition better, enabling them to cope better and improve family relationships and communication.
There are ample reasons for a person to consider suicide. For some, it may be due to unavoidable circumstances or life experiences, while for others, it could be because of a mental or physical health condition causing immense pain. The exact reasons people choose to take their own lives are not always known, but having conversations and spreading awareness about the subject can help ease a person’s pain.