On World Suicide Prevention Day, learn how to save lives
MANILA, Philippines – Every 40 seconds, one person takes his own life somewhere in the world. In a year, over 800,000 people take their own lives.
It's a major public health concern that is completely avoidable, said the World Health Organization (WHO) in its landmark report capping years of research on suicide deaths around the world and strategies to prevent it.
This year's release of the global report comes ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on Wednesday, September 10. The event aims to raise awareness about suicide, mental illnesses, and ways to reach vulnerable individuals and get them to receive help.
For every suicide death, there are many more people who attempt suicide every year.
Suicide is a global phenomenon and a major public health problem in all regions of the world. In 2012, 75% of global suicides occurred in low- and middle- income countries.
The WHO put the global rate of suicide at 11.4 per 100,000 people, based on records of each country. But the data is likely to be under-reported, with suicide deaths possibly misclassified as an accident especially in countries where talk of suicide is taboo.
In almost all regions of the world, suicide rates are highest in persons aged 70 and older. In some countries, however, the rates are highest among the young.
In 2012, suicide was the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds.
The Philippines has a low incidence of suicide (2.7 per 100,000 people) with most suicide deaths coming from the 15-29 and 70+ years age groups.
Who's at risk?
People with mental disorders (particularly depression and alcohol use) can be susceptible to suicidal tendencies, but it's important to note that not all who take their own lives have mental illnesses. (READ: The whys of suicide)
The decision can happen impulsively during stressful life events or moments of crisis, such as experiencing financial difficulties, relationship problems, and pain and illness.
The strongest risk factor is a prior suicide attempt. (READ: Understanding suicide)
Because suicide is complex, the cooperation of different sectors – from health, education, law, politics, and media – is needed to ensure that vulnerable individuals can get access to help.
One key element of suicide prevention is restricting access to the means of suicide.
It's also important for a person exhibiting suicidal tendencies to get the necessary emotional support from peers and family members. This year's theme, "One World Connected," highlights the importance of receiving support: vulnerable individuals shouldn't feel alone, helpless, and isolated from the rest of the world.
On the one hand, media also plays a role, as research has shown that extensive and sensationalist coverage of suicide deaths can actually spur imitative behavior.
Knowing how to recognize the warning signs can prevent suicide when it's addressed early on.
How to spot the warning signs
The Philippines has its own suicide first aid guidelines, developed through research supported by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Centre for International Mental Health.
If you think a loved one may be having suicidal thoughts, learn to recognize the dramatic changes in mood, behavior, and appearance:
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Expressing, in words or actions, loss of interest in things that were previously of interest
- Expressing hopelessness, shame, worthlessnes, having no reason to live
- Describing themselves as a burden to others
- Verbally expressing the wish to die through jokes or threats, or praying that God would take their life
- Seeking information about suicide methods
- Behaving in life-threatening ways, like engaging in risky activities seemingly without thinking
- Stopping life-saving treatments or medications
- Setting their affairs in order by giving away prized possessions, seeking forgiveness or making amends, asking others to take on responsibility for the care of people or pets
- Increased intake of tobacco, alcohol, or other vices
If the person exhibits several of these signs, ask them directly: Are you thinking of killing yourself?
It's important not to express fear or negative judgment when talking about suicide, as vulnerable people are often seeking emotional support and a safe space for them to talk about their feelings.
Determine if the situation is serious by asking these questions:
- Have you decided how you would kill yourself?
- Have you decided when you would do it?
- Have you taken any steps to secure the things you would need to carry out your plan?
All thoughts of suicide must be taken seriously, especially if there's a high level of planning already involved.
How to keep a suicidal person safe
A person seriously thinking of completing suicide must not be left on their own. Check with them regularly, provide support, and tell them that you care about their well-being and want to help.
Allow them to express their feelings and their reasons for wanting to die. Listen without judgment. Don't belittle their fears and anxieties.
It's important to help the person understand that their suicidal thoughts do not need to be acted upon.
If it's safe to do so, try to remove the means of suicide available, or seek professional help.
Avoid asking if they have a mental illness. Because of the stigma still attached to mental health, some people might react negatively or would not be willing to accept that they might be suffering from mental health problems.
Myths about suicide
Myth: Once a person is suicidal, he is always suicidal.
Fact: Heightened suicide risk is often specific to a situation and is short term. Suicidal thoughts are not permanent but may return.
Myth: Talking about suicide can be interpreted as encouragement.
Fact: Talking openly can give a vulnerable person options or time to rethink his decision. Most of those thinking of taking their own lives do not know who to speak to, afraid of the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide.
Myth: Only those with mental disorders are suicidal.
Fact: Not all who take their own lives have a mental disorder. Many living with mental disorders aren't affected by suicidal behavior.
Myth: Most suicides happen without warning.
Fact: Majority of suicides are preceded by behavioral or verbal red flags or warning signs.
Myth: Suicidal people are determined to die.
Fact: They're often ambivalent about living or dying, which is why they need emotional support to help them rethink their decision.
Myth: People who talk about suicide don't actually mean it.
Fact: People who talk about suicide are seeking help or support, and want someone to listen to him without judgment.
Where to seek help
Suicide is avoidable. If someone you know is feeling hopeless and in despair, the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation has a 24-hour depression and suicide prevention hotline to help those secretly suffering from depression.
The numbers to call are 804-4673 and 0917-558-4673.
Globe and TM subscribers may call the toll-free number 2919.
A woman sitting alone and depressed via Shutterstock