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What Can We Do To Prevent Suicidal Behaviours?

Sadly, quite a few suicide deaths have been reported in recent weeks. How can we be more proactive to help the individual next door, the passenger with you in the lift, your colleague at work? How can you make life easier for them? A kind gesture here, a smile there, show of all matters. Afterall, we know that there are protective factors and risk factors.

Protective factors include good social support, cohesive and supportive family ties, positive interpersonal relationships, good problem solving and coping skills, prompt identification and treatment of mental health challenges especially depression.

So, what are the figures?

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1 million suicide deaths occur every year. This translates into one suicide death every 40 seconds. How can we prevent this avoidable loss of precious human lives?

The very first step towards suicide prevention is identifying the warning signs of suicidal behavior. While some suicide deaths are impulsive reactions, 80 per cent of those who eventually commit suicide would have given some signs of their intentions before they eventually carry it out. These signs include expressions such as 'I am not good enough', 'I simply can't cope' and 'Everyone will be better off without me'.

Other signs may include expressing hopelessness, or talking about what to do if they are no longer alive, loss of interest in planning for the future, social withdrawal and isolation, 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 behaviour is high.

What should we do if we recognise these warning signs?

i). Individuals: At the individual level, if you recognise 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 behaviour. 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. Even if you cannot do all of the above steps, simply acknowledging their emotional pain and providing a listening ear is helpful.

Lastly, please go the extra mile to ensure they get professional evaluation from a qualified mental health professional (psychiatrist or clinical psychologist). This will help them navigate the maze of emotional pain they may be going through, and receive adequate treatment for underlying conditions such as depression.

ii). Community: At the community and public level, public awareness and education to understand suicide and other mental health challenges as well as reducing the associated stigma is helpful. This should lead to an increase in help-seeking behaviour and the utilisation of mental health care services, which are readily available in most teaching hospitals as well as the neuropsychiatric hospitals.

It is an error to imagine that it is only people who are 'mad' that need to see a mental health professional. Improved access to mental health professionals in all health care facilities should be a government priority.

iii). Media: The media also has an important role to play in suicide prevention. Glamourising and splashing all the gory details should be avoided as much as possible. The trend on social media to chronicle and discuss all the details of their last posts, their struggles etc is unhelpful.

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. The media has a duty to prevent 'Werther Effect' or copycat suicides, following a widely-publicised suicide.

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 neighbours; 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, your mental health is in your 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. Let us cultivate the habit of being there for each other - thus promoting our mental health and reducing the tendencies towards suicidal behavior.

If you are feeling suicidal or know someone who is, please call these Suicide Prevention (SURPIN) Helplines: 09080217555; 09034400009; 08111909909; 07013811143
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Publication:Nigerian Tribune (Oyo State, Nigeria)
Date:May 23, 2019
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