When One Door Shuts, Other Opens: Thumb-rule for Suicide Prevention
In India about 1 Lakh people die of suicide every year with a staggering 30% seen among the youth or people under 30 years of age. With about 71% of suicides being observed among people under 40 years of age, it is time that we acknowledge the fact that this is a call for a social and emotional crisis. As seen in the global statistics, ratio of suicide rates among males and females is higher on the former side. In India the ratio isn’t tilted to one particular side. Let’s understand why we should pay heed to the increasing number in suicide.
Suicide: a 'Personal Issue' or a 'Social Issue'?
The prevalence of suicide varies across cultures, gender, age groups, geographical locations, financial conditions and many more such aspects. The proposition that suicide is a social issue has been long debated. A striking amount of research concludes that suicide is as much a social trouble as it is a personal one. Yes, many agree with the fact that suicide occurs when persons give up on life. It is also true that many causes of suicide are personal ones. On a psychological level, a person who died of suicide struggles with coping and was living with one or the other mental health issue such as depression. But can we distinguish the individual from the society? The negligence in recognizing contribution of societal factors such as high expectations from students, peer pressure, the dynamic of fame etc. suggests that suicide is not a social problem. Certain issues of the society as the stigma around mental health care, use of terms like ‘pagal hai ye (he is mad)’ and labeling people also contributes to suicide. Economic failures, cultural inhibitions, discrimination, prejudice etc. have also led to suicide. There are pretty much social aspects of life which have a large impact on humans.
How to help the cause- “Suicide Prevention”?
A society should be able to promote connectedness and support for people at risk. This can be achieved through community intervention programs. Exposing the youth and adolescent population to the right kind of socio emotional learning, effective coping, problem solving skills can bring upon a change in our societal perception and action towards issues of mental health. While this is as important for older populations, they also need to be engaged in family and relationship programs which can make them better caretakers.
Suicidal Ideation and why do these thoughts occur?
Suicidal feelings and ideation refers to recurring thoughts which revolve around planning a suicide. These thoughts can be indicative of an underlying psychological problem or co-morbidity. Due to individual differences, it is difficult to come up with the specific causes, but there are some causes which are general. These causes include depression, grief and loss, side effects of medication etc. There are also certain risk factors which include: prior suicide attempts, family history, physical or sexual abuse, risky health behaviors, prolonged exposure to stress and anxiety etc.
To prevent suicide, it is important to identify suicidal symptoms. The symptoms are:
- Feeling trapped/hopeless
- Feeling emotional pain
- Experiencing changes in personality
- Experiencing changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Increased isolation
- Experiencing depression, panic attacks or other psychological issues
- Talking of self harm
- Experiencing extreme but frequent mood changes
Is Suicide our 'Last Gateway'?
People often say that suicide was their“Last Option” or those who died of suicide had nothing to live for. While this is not entirely untrue. Of course, assuming that people should try harder or be stronger is the wrong assumption and does not aid humanity’s fight against suicide. But there are ways in which we can help:
Can 'Optimism' help?
Optimism, as a thought process is associated with decreased thoughts of suicide ideation. It plays a protective role across cultures and age groups in prevention of suicide. Research has concluded that perceptions of self efficacy and optimism can alter stress induced suicidal thoughts (Feng et.al. 2015).
Positivity during suicidal feelings can help the individual acknowledge that there is more to life, that failure whether profession, intimate or personal do not define who we are. Having a positive outlook is also associative with higher resilience levels.
Therapy can work wonders: is that so?
Psychotherapy has proven helpful in cases of suicide ideation. However, in extreme cases where suicidal thoughts and feelings are chronic may benefit from in-patient treatment facilities. Therapy aims at reducing and later, as therapy progresses, eliminating the feelings of hopelessness, eventually restoring hope. Medical treatment with a psychiatrist is often necessary to keep in check the physiological response of the body to suicidal thoughts. Recent studies have shown that even talk therapy can reduce the risk of suicide by a significant 50%.
What can you do:
If someone you know is going through something similar, refer them to a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. If you’re their immediate family, make them go for therapy. You should also provide them with social and emotional support. Remember people often lose the will to live which triggers such thoughts. You can try to kindle something fun that they can hold onto, like a hobby or some fun activity.
- Be Empathetic: Understanding people’s problems from their perspectives is empathy. This includes acknowledging others’ feelings and having care and concern for the other person. Do not rush through conversations or dismiss other people’s feelings, and certainly don’t practice a judgmental attitude towards them.
- Be a Good Listener: Being able to talk to someone with the assurance that there will be no judgment is what people going through troubled times wish for. Having someone we can trust is the best source of social and emotional support. We can help save a life by just ‘being there’. Lending an ear can help some relieve feelings of loneliness, anxiety and bottled up emotions.
- Encouraging people to get Help with Mental Health Issues: Although suicide cases are sometimes unprecedented, the symptoms were there a quite a time before the suicide. Walking away from the stigma and encouraging people with mental health issues to see a professional can help people to redirect their lives.
- Don’t Leave Them Alone: If you suspect that someone is hurting and are capable of harming oneself or someone else, do not leave them alone. Make sure that they have someone to rely on. Also, it is imperative to keep weaponry and drugs away from them.
The suicide pandemic in times of Corona
A large body of research has predicted that suicide and mental health cases are on the rise and will continue to rise after the pandemic is over. Cases of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and depression are expected to contribute majorly to this rise. In times of a pandemic, it is difficult to attend to proper treatment due to lack of resources and lockdowns. Experts suggest that online therapy, family support and social and emotional support are key factors in preventing suicide during this global pandemic of COVID 19. People do not stray away from help from a distance through e-services and digital mode, because there are major game changers now. It is best to seek out help than worsening the current situation.
While we do understand that everything is not in our control, certain things are. Some lifestyle changes such as incorporating positivity, seeking out help, understanding yourself and rationalizing the situation can help.
“Remember, if one door shuts, another door opens. Thus, every problem always has a solution, and suicide it not the solution”
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