World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), on 10 September, is organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). WHO has been co-sponsor of the day. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness around the globe that suicide can be prevented.
Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds.Every life lost represents someone’s partner, child, parent, friend or colleague. For each suicide approximately 135 people suffer intense grief or are otherwise affected. This amounts to 108 million people per year who are profoundly impacted by suicidal behaviour. Suicidal behaviour includes suicide, and also encompases suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. For every suicide, 25 people make a suicide attempt and many more have serious thoughts of suicide.
Suicide is the result of a convergence of genetic, psychological, social and cultural and other risk factors, sometimes combined with experiences of trauma and loss. People who take their own lives represent a heterogeneous group, with unique, complex and multifaceted causal influences preceding their final act. Such heterogeneity presents challenges for suicide prevention experts. These challenges can be overcome by adopting a multilevel and cohesive approach to suicide prevention.
Taking a minute to reach out to someone in your community – a family member, friend, colleague or even a stranger – could change the course of another’s life.
Individuals who have survived a suicide attempt have much to teach us about how the words and actions of others can be important, and many of them are now working as advocates for suicide prevention and have informed resources which are now readily available.
People are often reluctant to intervene, for many reasons, including a fear of not knowing what to say. It is important to remember, there is no specific formula. Empathy, compassion, genuine concern, knowledge of resources and a desire to help are key to preventing a tragedy.
Another factor that prevents individuals from intervening is the worry of making the situation worse. This hesitance is understandable as suicide is a difficult issue to address, accompanied by a myth that suggests talking about it may instigate vulnerable individuals to contemplate the idea or trigger the act.
Evidence suggests that this is not the case. The offer of support and a listening ear are more likely to reduce distress, as opposed to exacerbating it.
We need to look out for those who are not coping. Individuals in distress are often not looking for specific advice. Warning signs of suicide include: hopelessness, rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge, acting reckless or engaging in risky activities – seemingly without thinking, feeling trapped like there’s no way out, increased alcohol or drug use, withdrawing from friends, family & society, anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time and dramatic mood changes.
The listening ear of someone with compassion, empathy and a lack of judgement can help restore hope. We can check in with them, ask them how they are doing and encourage them to tell their story. This small gesture goes a long way.
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