Updated: Dec 21, 2022
Suicide formally, is defined as intentionally taking one’s own life. It holds different traits in different parts of the world. Some countries still consider it as a criminal act, in some places it is a religious taboo, and some have the flexibility to understand the hopelessness and pain that leads one to take one’s own life. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the world and the leading cause of death among 10-29 year olds in India.
Statistics tell us that about 75,000 students died due to suicide between the years 2007 and 2016 and in fact, the Minister of Home Affairs in 2018 reported in the Lok Sabha that student suicides have increased as much as 52% from 17 a day in 2007 to 26 a day in 2016. Interviews with professionals across educational and health care sectors revealed that causes of suicide varied from issues revolving around economic state, caste, gender, sexuality concerns, academic performance, interpersonal problems and most of these go unreported in order to simplify understanding of the complexities that finally lead an individual to take one’s own life. Even though, India decriminalised suicide under Section 115 of the Mental Health Care Act 2017 we, as a country, do not have a nationwide policy in place for suicide prevention.
However, psychologists have found community led prevention programs to be effective in preventing this epidemic. It involves training people in the community to identify risk factors or signs associated with high risk of suicide. When the government falls short, we have to rise up and come together. And we have research backing us, the more we can talk and discuss about suicide in a helpful way the more lives we can save.
So what can all of us do to help? The first step is to understand that suicide is nobody’s first choice and if possibilities are made available to people who are vulnerable, we can prevent losing a life.
You can identify warning signs for possible suicide in how people talk, how they behave and their mood i.e. how they are feeling. In case you find anyone around you expressing they feel hopeless, how life would be better if they did not exist or how they think they are a burden to their friends, family, society in general or even if they express that they are not actively looking to die but wouldn’t mind if something happened to them, it is a warning sign that they are at risk for suicide.
When it comes to behaviour, if ever you find anyone around you visiting or calling people to say goodbye, giving away their valuables, increasingly using substances to dull their pain, finding ways to harm themselves, isolating themselves from everyone around them, if you know they indulge in self-harm then know they are at risk for suicide.
Looking at mood, a feeling of hopelessness is one of the most important and consistent predictors of suicide. Hopelessness simply sounds like a feeling where the person feels there's nothing more to be done, felt, tried or said. Other feelings commonly associated with suicide risk include intense and long lasting shame or guilt, irritability, loss of interest in almost all activities across all aspects of one’s life, long standing and unresolved anger and frustration with oneself or other and a sense of helplessness.
Many at times, history of suicide in the family or other psychiatric and chronic health difficulties as well as sudden changes in our environment like financial loss, material loss in terms of house, failure to get a degree or social loss like losing a loved one, a break-up, constant rejection from peers, family or society can also put one at risk for suicide.
So how can we inoculate ourselves or those around us from risks of suicide? Research tells us that forming meaningful relationships, keeping in touch with supportive family members, our friends, our colleagues can significantly reduce risk for suicide. Finding a sense of connection and purpose with our work or interests and pursuing it also protects one from risk of suicide. Seeking help from mental health professionals also holds the potential to save a life.
If you find yourself or someone around you in need of help and do not know how to help them, here’s how you can start. You can ask:
“I noticed you have been worried lately, I would love to listen if you are comfortable sharing your thoughts with me.”
“I know life seems dark right now and I want to help, tell me how can I best help you?”
“I have been feeling concerned about you lately.”
“Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.”
“I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.”
“Have you thought about getting help?”
“You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.”
“You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.”
“I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.”
And if you can, please do take out an hour and take a Suicide Gatekeeper Training from a trusted mental health provider where you can learn how to prevent suicide amongst your family, peers and community at large.
As a therapist, I get asked this one question a lot of times. People who want to help will come and tell me I tried reaching out but I got no reply, they just don't care. And while I understand their concern, while I know how possible and valid this scenario is, I also know that the person suffering is always listening. It helps to reach out to them, make them feel safe and they will reach out to you. Just don't stop, engage professionals, friends, family and they will reach out.
The next step we all can take is offer our support and present before them resources available for them. It helps to begin with offering your own time and support, then there are helplines numbers and licensed therapists available who offer help at nominal costs, all you have to do is reach out to them.
One of the most common myths surroundings suicides is that they want to end their life and there's no point in helping them but all they want is to end their pain, not their life. Another myth we have to fight against is thinking that someone else closer to them might be getting them help. Maybe they are, maybe not. It never hurts to ask. It only hurts if you don't ask.
As a therapist, I have seen many individuals wanting to end their lives who were brought to me by their friends, family, partners. Everyone had their own pain and despair. Some had history of suicide running in their families, some had lost their entire families to accidents, some had faced rejection by people around them, some beaten up but all of them had one thing in common, that one person who stopped for a minute and noticed that they needed immediate help.
Sadly, suicide is more common than either of us stop to think. According to WHO, every 40 seconds someone is losing their life to suicide and we all can help. So take out 40 seconds of your life today, reach out to that one friend, family member or colleague you think might need help, who might have lost someone to suicide and share with them few minutes of your time, your hope, your support, use these resources to spread awareness at your workplace, your whatsapp group, your hang out gang, your study group. It only takes 40 seconds.
Important: You can access all suicide helplines here.
For Indian viewers: https://www.spif.in/seek-help
For international viewers: https://ibpf.org/resource/list-international-suicide-hotlines
Disclaimer: We do not own or support these helplines in any way. We disclaim all liability regarding quality of services that might be provided by these helplines. This post is for information purposes only and functional only in India.
Psychotherapist in training
MSc Clinical Psychology