It is always a shock to see individuals arrive at the decision, that they are going through emotional pain and anguish that is beyond what they can cope with. And to arrive at the point where they start to contemplate that they may be better off dead. This is the beginning of suicidal thoughts (ideation) which leads to planning and then attempts.
Understanding this sequence of events is fundamental, to help us appreciate that there is a critical window of opportunity for suicide prevention. Anyone going through such emotional pain or depression needs help.
It is a sobering fact that a million suicide deaths occur globally every year. This implies that every 40 seconds, a precious human life is lost through suicide. Yet we know that suicide is ALWAYS preventable. Thus, September 10 every year has been set aside to mark the World Suicide Prevention Day. This is a problem we can DO something about.
What can we do?
The very first step is identifying the warning signs of suicidal behavior. While some suicide deaths are impulsive reactions, 80% of those who eventually commit suicide would have given some signs of their intentions before they eventually attempt it.
These signs include expressions such as “I am a failure”, “I simply can’t cope”. Other signs may include expressing hopelessness or talking about what to do if they are no longer alive, turning to drugs and alcohol to drown sorrows, history of impulsiveness or previous suicide attempt. When several of these signs are present in an individual, the risk of suicidal behavior is high.
What should we do if we recognize these warning signs?
i). Individuals: At the individual level, if you recognize these signs and suspect the individual is at risk, do not dismiss your suspicions. Do not leave them alone but ensure someone is with them at all times. Let them know you are concerned about them. Condition yourself to listen to them, rather than delivering lengthy sermons and admonitions. Do not show alarm or exhibit judgmental behavior.
Ask specific questions to find out if they are actively planning to do something. Presence of specific planning is an indication of serious intent and should instantly be a red flag to take action. Reassure them that there is no need to be ashamed or embarrassed, as it is not a sign of weakness or cowardice.
Lastly, please go the extra mile to ensure they get professional evaluation from a qualified mental health professional (psychiatrist or clinical psychologist). These professionals have the expertise to help them navigate the maze of emotional pain they may be going through.
ii). Community: At the community and public level, public awareness and education to understand suicide and other mental health challenges as well reducing the associated pervasive stigma is helpful.
In this regard, the public awareness campaigns by the Suicide Prevention Initiative in Nigeria (SURPIN), the AsidoFoundation, MindTrust Foundation, Mandate Health Empowerment Initiative (MHEI), Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI), Suicide is No Solution (SINS) amongst several others, are very laudable.
iii). Media: The media also has an important role to play in suicide prevention. Glamourizing and splashing all the gory details should be avoided as much as possible. While it is necessarily important news, such sad occurrences also provide an important avenue to provide education about risk factors and where to seek help.
Emphasis should be on the fact that individuals who are depressed, can recover and turn things around in their life…with professional help and treatment. The privacy of family members should be protected, and efforts to reduce associated stigma amplified.
iv). Schools: The school environment should allow all students to flourish, learn and develop – regardless of their individual temperaments or dispositions. Bullying, taunting and public humiliations can be devastating for adolescents with fragile egos and low self-esteem.
vi). Social Support Network: Lastly, having a support network such as friendly and caring neighbors; religious support groups; close circle of friends and colleagues at work; and involvement in social activities such as sports are also helpful and protective.
In conclusion, our mental health is in our hands. Let us all watch out for our emotional wellbeing, as well as that of everyone we interact with at home, in the neighborhood and at work. Times are difficult and frustrations are rife, but as human beings, everyone appreciates a helping hand when they are down.
Let us cultivate the habit of being there for each other – thus promoting our mental health and reducing the tendencies towards suicidal behavior. This is especially needed, in these trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been emotionally draining for most people. Together, we will overcome and get beyond this.
If you or anyone else you know, needs urgent help for suicidal behaviour, please call the Suicide Prevention Initiative in Nigeria (SURPIN) helplines, for immediate professional intervention anywhere in the country. It is powered by a collaborative network of expert mental and medical professionals working together to prevent suicide.
SURPIN Emergency numbers are: 09080217555, 09034400009, 08111909909 and 07013811143.
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 9th September 2021