Monday Mind Talks: Expert offers insight into warning signs of suicide and its prevention
The unwanted pressures, chronic stress, loss of meaning and purpose and pleasure in life, has taken many young millennials to the brink of ending their lives.
Suicide prevention is one of the most arduous challenges any mental health professional faces in today’s world. Suicide is an act of taking one’s life voluntarily and intentionally. The number of suicide rates in India have increased remarkably in recent years. The need for its prevention has increased now more than ever. The unwanted pressures, chronic stress, loss of meaning and purpose and pleasure in life, have taken many young millennials to the brink of ending their lives.
In addition, the stigma around mental illness is substantial, making it difficult to understand and predict the overpowering and profound reasons that lead to suicide. The problem has been unsatisfactorily addressed due to prejudice, lack of awareness and openness about the phenomenon. Samar Hafeez, a Psychologist and a Certified holistic health coach, explains how to identify the warning signs of suicide and the steps for its prevention.
Risk factors for suicide
These factors put a person at higher risk for developing suicidal thoughts or plans (also known as suicidal ideations), and increasing suicidal attempts and death.
- Untreated depression, substance use issues/ drug or alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder
- Major life crisis or changes such as the death of a loved one/caregiver, separation or desertion, divorce, chronic emotional or physical abuse or violence, sexual violence, poverty/unemployment/loss of job, relationship disappointments/breakups, chronic neglect by loved ones/guardians
- Poor community or spiritual support
- Severe or chronic stress, psychological distress and anguish
- Bullying (cyber or face to face), unjust treatment and discrimination
- Overwhelming societal and cultural pressures
- Academic failures
- Exposures to suicides through media or at home
- Low frustration tolerance and high impulsivity in a person.
- Terminal illnesses or chronic pain
Men’s mental health matters
Men are more likely to die by suicide than women, reasons include lack of communication and openness about their mental health conditions. Men are not encouraged to express their sensitive feelings and emotions. Instead, they are lauded for their ability to bottle up thoughts and feelings more than women. Many cultures expect them to be “strong” and discourage them on admitting their vulnerability to mental health problems. In addition, men are more intense and have strong intent in completing the act of suicide.
- The person might talk directly about wanting to die or kill oneself
- Constantly makes remarks about hopelessness and lack of purpose or goal in life
- Expresses feelings of helplessness,
- Believes and states that there is no reason or motive to live
- Talking about being trapped
- Referring to oneself as being a burden to others
- Sudden changes in appearance or personality
- Poor self-hygiene
- An abrupt change in the person’s behaviour compared to early ways of functioning.
- Initiation or increase in alcohol or drug abuse
- Withdrawal from family, friends and other social activities
- Sleeping too much or too little,
- Absenteeism (skipping work or school/college),
- Reckless behaviour, drastic mood fluctuations and display of rage
- Preoccupation with death in writing, emails, drawings or scribbles and performing last rights.
Situational and environmental cues for us to assess:
Investigate if the person has had any major disruptive life changes (recent or past) which might include abrupt loss of job, loss of a loved one (natural death or suicide), poverty/financial crisis, domestic or sexual abuse, chronic illness, physical disabilities or pain, relationship or academic breakdown. A family history of suicide is a good indicator as well.
Failure to acknowledge the above-mentioned cues or at least not seriously heeding them can lead to suicide attempts by an individual.
Prevention and Control
Suicide is preventable with an appropriate and timely approach. If someone is considering suicide, take them seriously. Some of the most important and swift measures that we can be taken to prevent suicide are mentioned below:
- Break the stigma associated with suicide. You try to be the change you want to see in the world. Educate yourself on mental illnesses that are more prone to or contribute to suicide risk.
- Early intervention- Quick and early identification of mental issues such as depression, borderline personality disorders, and substance abuse disorders can go a long way in saving a life.
- Develop empathetic listening- Be supportive, understanding, compassionate and non-judgemental with people who have mental health issues. If someone you know has a mental illness or talks about taking one’s life, listen to their worries and agony empathetically. Motivate them into seeking therapy and medications.
- Eliminate access to lethal substances or objects from the vicinity of a person who is suicidal. Also, explore the suicidal person’s preoccupation or the contemplated way of ending life, this will help in removing every object that can possibly be life-threatening to the individual (especially when the person has had a history of suicide attempts).
- Stay connected; be supportive- invite the person for walks or social events and do not let the person who is actively suicidal stay alone. It is interesting to find that high levels of spirituality and community support decrease suicidality in a person. Hence, engaging a person in humanitarian and spiritual services can help.
- Introduce the significance of mental health awareness in younger generations- Educating students on mental and emotional well-being is absolutely essential in today’s scenario. As the saying goes prevention is better than cure, which is perfectly applicable to mental health as well.
Early education on identifying symptoms of common mental illnesses, emotional regulation strategies, frustration tolerance skills, problem and conflict resolution capabilities, stress, anger and anxiety management methods, will help build resilience from the early stages of life.
Suicide is a social and psychological phenomenon that is present in every culture. ‘Instil Hope’ in a person who faces hopelessness. Slowly build hope in someone who is suicidal. Help the person to see the existing problem and distress as transitory. Inspire and persuade them that they are not alone, and that treatment is available and can be advantageous and worthwhile.
We need to work responsibly and in collaboration in order to spread mental health awareness, and suicide prevention before it is too late.
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