Talking about Suicide : A hush-hush affair!
Laxman Nath & Abhas Dangol
According to Nepal Police, in fiscal year 2076/77, 6,279 people lost their life to suicide, increase of 9.12% from previous year. How serious is the issue? Let’s compare it to an average ward population in Nepal i.e. around 3000-5000 people. In hindsight, we are losing the entire population of a single or two wards to suicide in a single year. Numbers from last 6 years show that the numbers are increasing as 4,504 people lost their lives to suicide in 2070/71. The numbers provided above are not just confined to the adult population as suicide has emerged as a serious problem among children and adolescents as well. In FY 2076/77, 252 boys and 410 girls lost their life due to suicide (Nepal Police).
The number of suicides of boys doubled in two years whereas, the number of suicides of girls increases by 200% in same period. These numbers that we have shared are only indicative of incidents that came to the attention of the police last year. The probability of the number being even higher adds to the gravity of the issue and calls for immediate attention. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) every year, approximately 800,000 people lose their life to suicide around the world, which is equivalent to one life lost every 40 seconds. Yet, it is one of the least talked about issues around the world. This write-up is trying to bring this issue to light and convey that suicide is preventable and that every life can be saved.
Are we defining suicide correctly?
Stedman’s Medical Dictionary (28th ed.) defines suicide as “the act of intentionally causing one’s own death” and definitions as such are widely used and accepted around the world. This definition only covers a part of what suicide really is. Only focusing on this aspect of suicide presents a risk of putting the blame on the individual and stigmatizing the issue even more. According to International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), ‘suicide is a result of the convergence of genetic, psychological, social and cultural and other risk factors, sometimes combined with experiences of trauma and loss.’ IASP shifts the focus placed on an individual with suicidal ideation to various circumstances and stresses in life in interaction with their present state of mind. A different perspective helps in understanding the intricacies of suicide and not overtly simplifying this complex issue.
Suicide is a preventable affair
The generalized belief around the globe is that suicide is not preventable, which, in our opinion does not hold true. We usually avoid the topic of suicide because we still believe that there is nothing much we can do to prevent suicide. Every time a life is lost to suicide, the conversation is generally focused on ‘oh, how weak the person was to have ended his/her life’ OR ‘the pain was too much to handle to have ended the life.’ Seldom does anyone talk about how it could have been prevented or how we could have made sense of the signs transmitted by the person who unfortunately will not be sending any more. According to IASP, “Empathy, compassion, genuine concern, knowledge of resources and a desire, to help are keys to preventing a tragedy.” There is always a lot we can do from our place and coordinate with others to prevent suicide. Knowing the warning signs of suicide, exploring the risk factors and protective factors of suicide, and being available to listen with compassion, empathy, and lack of judgment plays a vital role in the prevention of suicide.
Knowing the warning signs
Contrary to popular belief, most of the suicide attempts are pre-planned for a long time and warning signs are visible before any attempt. Knowing and understanding those signs are very crucial to save lives. Any of following signs should be taken seriously and the person should be attended with love, compassion, empathy and non-judgmental attitude: –
- Talking about attempting suicide or being a burden to others
- Collecting or searching for means of suicide
- Expression of high dissatisfaction towards future or talking about feeling of having no purpose in life or being hopeless about future
- Development of feeling of guilt, shame and disgust toward self
- Suddenly arranging or cleaning up household or taking care of unfinished business
- Unusually taking long leave or talking about going far
- Being distant from social gathering
- Involvement in risky behaviors as heavy alcohol abuse, inflicting cuts, etc.
- Suddenly being calm and peaceful after serious increase in frustration and sadness
- Posting stories, poem or status in social media about not wanting to live anymore or being frustrated etc.
We should also understand that the person who had previously attempted suicide is comparatively at high risk of suicide. Similarly, family members, trauma survivors, violence or abuse survivors, persons with chronic diseases, etc. are at higher risk of suicide.
We all have a role to play
Preventing suicide is often possible, and we all have a part to play as a member of society and as a human being. We can contribute to raise awareness, being available to listen, reducing stigma, and linking them to the right services. We can help to create an environment where people with suicide ideation can come and talk about their feeling and hardships. It is very important to work for suicide prevention as it affects persons with suicidal thoughts as well as people associated with them. According to IASP, for each suicide, approximately 135 people suffer intense grief or are otherwise affected. Even for ourselves, if we are to make sure that we are not among the indicated 135 persons, we need to play our part. Joining together is crucial to preventing suicide, and it takes the effort of many. Family, friends, co-workers, community members, teachers, religious leaders, healthcare professionals, political officials, and government all need to join their hands as the issue that we have been discussing here is deep-rooted and concerns us all.
We can all play our part by providing support to early identification of warning signs, promoting self-care, sharing knowledge and information about suicide prevention services, being available and most importantly creating a platform to openly discuss suicidal thoughts without any stigma and discrimination. Every life is important and through our small efforts, we all can play a big role in the prevention of suicide. So, “let’s work together to prevent suicide.”