Preventing suicides by working together

Candle in the darkness

World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) on 10 September is organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) with the purpose of creating awareness around the globe that suicide can be prevented.

Suicides by people of all ages, particularly the young, are on the increase on a daily basis, quite unlike before, and that too by people whom we least expect to take an extreme step like suicide. It is only a united effort by all concerned at all levels that can put an end to this ever-increasing menace. To begin with, we need to keep in mind the following, and act accordingly:

Threats of suicide should always be taken seriously. Always act on the cry for help, however insignificant you feel the cause of the threat is. We are dealing with people in pain and their perceptions are not necessarily close to everyday reality. In the majority of cases, an actual suicide is the result of a temporary mental aberration or instability — the person is just off balance rather than insane. An anxious event or something quite small pushes him/her beyond his/her limits of personal normal functioning and control. There are social pressures too, that increase the likelihood of suicide.

Usually people don’t just wake up one morning and decide to kill themselves; there is generally a history of threat or hints that suicide is an option. If the person has some rudimentary plan such as time, place and method, then the threat is very real and one would be wise to obtain professional help as quickly as possible.

Every day, we lose many lives to suicide, and many more are profoundly impacted by their deaths. We acknowledge all who experience the challenges of suicidal ideation, and those who have lost loved ones through suicide.

In the event, one (you are) is faced with such a situation, here are some suggestions that may help you or someone you know to cope with while securing professional support:

Avoid platitudes and treat the issue as very real. Take the person and his declarations as if he means what he says. Do not attempt to negotiate. Sometimes people commit suicide as a form of retribution or paying back someone else to make them feel sorry. In such cases do not dwell on that person or how they might react to the intended suicide but rather keep the focus of the conversation on the suicidal person.

Give the person your total regard and listen to him, using plenty of summary statements so that you can show in a very real way that you understand his/her position, feelings and emotions. Many, especially young people, harm themselves because there has been a breakdown in communications with those who are significant in their lives. Coupled with this intense listening, refrain from making any judgemental comments or indeed trying to negotiate or talk them around. They will see what you are doing and you will lose their trust. It is far better to keep them talking until they are all talked out.

If it looks as if the person really is going to kill himself then you move from being non-directive and get the person to a hospital or a crisis centre and/or notify the police as soon as possible. Tell the person that you understand that he is in real psychological pain but that this will pass with time and that he must hang on and give himself a chance. This is the only area where you will not be expected to be bound by the confidentiality protocols. You have every right to prevent someone harming himself/herself or others and this overrides any contract you have with the individual. Once the event is over and the person is safe you will enjoy his/her positive regard again.

All of us can make our contribution in preventing suicide. Suicidal behaviour is universal, knows no boundaries so it affects everyone. The millions of people affected each year by suicidal behaviour have exclusive insight and unique voices. Their experiences are invaluable for informing suicide prevention measures and influencing the provision of supports for suicidal people and those around them. The involvement of people with lived experience of suicide in research, evaluation and intervention should be central to the work of every organization addressing suicidal behaviour.

Every day, we lose many lives to suicide, and many more are profoundly impacted by their deaths. We acknowledge all who experience the challenges of suicidal ideation, and those who have lost loved ones through suicide.

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C. Joseph
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C. Joseph

C. Joseph is as a counsellor in St Joseph’s College, Jakhama in Nagaland. He has written a number of articles and has produced several music albums in English and Tamil.