Looking out for early signs can reduce suicide cases
Dr Jeldah Nyamache
September was recently marked as the World Suicide Prevention Month. According to the World Health Organisation, about a million people round the globe commit suicide annually.
This is an alarming rate that continues to raise concerns as to whether we are doing enough to prevent it.
What could drive so many individuals to take own lives?
To those who are not in the grips of suicidal depression and despair, it’s difficult to understand what drives others to take own lives.
A suicidal person is in so much pain they can see no other option. It is as simple as that. Blinded by feelings of self-hate, hopelessness and isolation, a suicidal person can’t see any way of finding relief except through death.
Despite the desire for the pain to stop, most suicidal people are deeply conflicted about ending their lives. They wish there was an alternative to suicide, but they don’t see one.
Depression plays a major role in suicide. It causes distorted thinking and leads to the feeling of no possible solution to suffering.
Most suicidal individuals give signals of their intentions. The best way to prevent suicide is to recognise the warning signs and know how to respond.
If you believe a friend or family member is suicidal, you can play a role in preventing it by pointing out alternatives, showing you care, and calling in a doctor or psychologist.
Major warning signs include talking about killing or harming oneself, talking or writing a lot about death or dying and seeking out things that could be used in a suicide attempt.
The signals are even more dangerous if the person has a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar, suffers from alcohol or other psychoactive substance dependence, has previously attempted suicide or has a family history of suicide.
A more subtle but dangerous warning sign is hopelessness. Studies have found it a strong predictor of suicide.
People who feel hopeless may talk about “unbearable” feelings, predict a bleak future and have a sense of nothing to look forward to.
Other warning signs that point to a suicidal mind frame are dramatic mood swings or sudden personality changes, such as switching from outgoing to withdrawn or from well-behaved to rebellious.
A suicidal person may also lose interest in day-to-day activities, neglect their appearance, or show big changes in eating or sleeping habits.
Research shows that many individuals who have completed suicide or attempted it did not seek medical attention in the year prior.
What can you do?
To prevent or slow down the rate of suicide, it is important to always be on the lookout for the signs.
Anyone who talks about suicide or shows the warning signs needs immediate help.
And while talking to a friend or family member about suicidal thoughts and feelings can be extremely difficult, giving them an opportunity to express feelings can provide them with a much-needed relief from loneliness and thus pent-up negative feelings, and may prevent a suicide attempt.
Most important is the need for increased awareness and education about suicidal signs. It will contribute to decreasing suicide cases. —The Writer is a General Medical Practitioner in Kenya