Suicide is one of the most misunderstood and most complex public health concerns in modern society. Its prevalence can be seen in wide-ranging demographics from all countries in the world. With the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, its rates have been fueled to alarming rates globally.
Bangladesh alone has reported an almost twofold count of suicide rates (14,436), compared to that of Covid-19-related deaths (8,462) according to data collected between March 2020 to February 2021. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, this number is 45% higher than the (pre-Covid) average suicide rate of 10,000 people per annum.
The widespread social implications of the Covid-19 pandemic include job loss, financial stress, social isolation, homelessness/displacement and academic uncertainty. It is important to note that these implications are also significant contributing factors to psychological distress, mental illness and unsurprisingly, suicide. Most affected are our vulnerable populations such as those living in poverty, women, the elderly, students and persons with disabilities.
However, these societal and domestic contributing factors can be countered by raising awareness around the topic. This includes reducing stigma, encouraging evidence-based and well-informed action as well as addressing their existing mental health conditions without judgement.
Today, 10 September, is 'World Suicide Prevention Day' and this year's theme is 'Creating hope through action. The purpose of the day is to create a scope for raising awareness. And, it does not dismiss us from our roles in the promotion of action that can help to reduce the number of suicides and suicide attempts made globally.
According to the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), "Creating Hope Through Action" is a reminder that there is an alternative to suicide and aims to inspire confidence and light in all of us; that our actions, no matter how big or small, may provide hope to those who are struggling," said in International Association for the Study of Pain (2021).
Stigma is a major barrier when trying to seek help.
According to WHO's latest estimates, more people die "every year as a result of suicide than HIV, malaria, or breast cancer or war and homicide." (WHO, 2021).
What can we do to move forward?
By changing our perceptions regarding suicide as "weakness" or "failure," we can help prevent others from attempting it as well as help survivors re-integrate back to society in meaningful ways without judging their abilities.
We can make a difference in the lives of others during their darkest moments as a member of society. Whether we are a friend, a parent, a child, a colleague or a neighbour, our role can go beyond supporting those experiencing a suicidal crisis, it also includes support of those bereaved by suicide.
The emphasis here is on the word "action". Taking the time to proactively inform ourselves on the ways in which to reach out and understand the person who is struggling and contemplating suicide, may signal to that person that there is hope yet; that we care for and want to support them.
Showing someone that we "care" may sound like a simple thing for those who have never lost their will to live. But for an individual experiencing a suicidal crisis, it can become the tipping point that shines a light upon their deep sense of hopelessness.
The factors and causes that lead to suicide are complex and many. Our role is not to tell them what to do or have solutions, but simply making the time and space to listen to them, no matter how trivial their concerns may appear to us subjectively.
The hardest part is to find out whether the person is in danger of acting on suicidal feelings. Being sensitive, but asking direct questions, such as: a) How are you coping with what's been happening in your life? b) Are you thinking about hurting yourself? c) Have you thought about how or when you'd do it?
Offering an opportunity to talk about their suicidal feelings may reduce the risk of acting on those feelings, and won't push someone into doing something self-destructive, contrary to popular belief.
For those who have not explicitly shared their suicidal ideas/thoughts, we can look out for some common signs of distress, such as:
Social withdrawing and wanting to be left alone
Making statements such as "I'm going to kill myself," "I wish I were dead" or "I wish I hadn't been born"
Having mood swings - emotionally optimistic one day and deeply discouraged the next
Feeling trapped/hopeless about a situation
Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
Changing eating or sleeping patterns
Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this
Saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again
By encouraging understanding and conversations, and by sharing experiences, we want to give people the confidence to take action.
At the Psychological Health & Wellness Clinic (PHWC), we believe that human beings are more than a statistic. The entirety of our psychological health and wellbeing services aims to treat, support and prevent self-harm of any kind.
We promote hope and compassion through providing safe spaces with privacy, through psychoeducation of risk factors and through encouragement to harness unique personal strengths and resources to achieve our goals, including wanting to stay alive.
All of us can play a role, no matter how miniscule. We may never know what we did that made a difference in someone's life. We all can stay alert and ask the right questions. You too can play your part in helping someone by acting directly or through linking them to the services they require.
If you, or anyone you know might be struggling, please help them access 'Kaan Pete Roi' helpline 01779554391-2 or connect them to PHWC professional services at 09609013000.
Alternately, join us and many others across the world today in the prevention of suicide. Let your loved ones know about PHWC services.
The author is Lead Psychological Counselor & Additional Managing Director at Psychological Health & Wellness Clinic (PHWC)