What Can You DO To Prevent Suicide?
September 10 of every year is dedicated to preventing suicide in our society. The 2022 World Suicide Prevention Day theme is “Creating Hope through Action.”
The World Health Organization estimates that about 703,000 people die from suicide every year. That translates to about one suicide death every 44 seconds and 1,926 deaths every day.
The WHO estimate covers only successful suicide attempts. For every attempted suicide that succeeds, 20 more attempts do not succeed, thus making the challenge of suicide particularly worrying.
Suicide statistics cover everyone from young to old, rich to poor. It cuts across religions, cultures, genders, income levels, and geography. These cases share similar and unique patterns from when the suicide is thought of to the point it is attempted.
For some people, suicide is an impulsive response to life challenges, such as losing a loved one, a job, a setback, or substantial reputational damage.
In some cases, suicide ideation comes slowly over time, especially for someone with a mental health disorder like anxiety or depression. The burden of these conditions may overwhelm the victims into thinking of suicide.
Whatever the process that leads to suicide ideation or suicide attempt is, the effects of suicide go beyond the victims. It affects their families, friends and communities.
As the burden of suicide increases, what can you do to create hope and prevent the next suicide?
Understand the issue
Why would someone want to end their life? Research points to a variety of societal, environmental, and human factors, but it is preferable to tailor the causes to the particular person. Do not make an educated guess or see their reasons as excuses. Ask the person exhibiting suicidal thoughts and actions what the challenge is, where it hurts and how you can help. Listen patiently to know what is said and interpret it as the person means it.
Your questions will help them clarify their reasons, open them up to alternative solutions, and reduce their thoughts of suicide.
Support through action
The first point of action is safety. A person already thinking about suicide is liable to attempt it at anytime with any available lethal means. It could be a firearm, a sharp object, pills, or pesticides.
Your goal is to put enough time and space between them and the means of suicide to reduce their likelihood of using these means to hurt themselves. Change the locations of the suicide weapons or make them less deadly. If you can’t put them away, replace pesticides with water, medications with sugar pills, and bullets with blanks.
It may feel enormous to care for someone with suicidal tendencies. Still, even a little support can make a big difference in blocking the transition between suicidal thoughts and a suicide attempt. Let them know you are available to help. Your presence is preferable, but you can connect over the phone if you are not physically available. Being present makes you a lifeguard who is available in times of ease and ready to help in distress.
Your presence is a company for them. It will reduce their isolation, create a sense of belonging, and reduce their likelihood of committing suicide, at least in the short term.
Then you can help them to find and access a physician or a psychiatrist who will take care of them till the suicide crisis is resolved. This physician will take care of the clinical aspect of the crisis while you can stand by to offer social support.
In any case, your actions can ease the social risk factors for suicide, reduce the stigma against people with mental illnesses, give them the confidence to seek care, and support them on the road to recovery.
Share your experience
Our experiences can give alternate perspectives to someone thinking about suicide. You may have struggled with a challenge in the past and emerged better and stronger. Your experience from these struggles could offer hope for those facing a similar challenge in the present.
You do not necessarily have to prescribe solutions if they are not evidence-based or you are not a professional. Instead, you can help people thinking of killing themselves access the kind of care you got, which allows you to cope or resolve your challenges.
People thinking of suicide often feel alone and hopeless. Signal to them that with your experience, there is hope, that they can be better, that you care, and that you want to help. That may be enough to prevent the next instance of suicide in your community.