The word ‘suicide’ is often surrounded by stigma, which further leads to a hesitation in talking about it. At the same time, hearing about the mention of the word often tends to evoke in us many powerful images, emotions and even judgments. Mental health in itself is often surrounded by stigma, which becomes one of the primary obstacles in the way of identification and management of mental illnesses. This is especially true in cases of suicide, where it is common for an individual to be blamed. On the contrary, in most cases, suicidal tendencies are more likely to be explained by an untreated illness, which could be prevented with timely identification as well as intervention of the same. Therefore, it becomes important to ensure we clarify common myths and misconceptions associated with suicide and self-harm, and at the same time also think about the need of the hour to prevent such incidents in the future.
A Glimpse at the Facts and Figures
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers worldwide and this trend continues to rise even today (WHO, 2002). In fact, the findings of a WHO study in 2012 report that 75% of global suicide occurred in low- and middle-income countries, with suicide accounting for 1.4% of all deaths worldwide, making it the 15th leading cause of death. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and was the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year old’s globally in 2012. Moreover, it is estimated by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that at least 25 attempts are made for every completed teen suicide.
The recent Mental Healthcare Act which was passed in 2017 decriminalized suicide, a much-appreciable act which encourages a sensitized approach to mental illnesses. However, suicide prevention is a collective responsibility which is not simply restricted to policy making, but also requires creating awareness and sensitization towards the reporting of mental health, while also making mental health services accessible and available to all.
Yes, Suicide is Preventable!
It is important for us to realize that suicide is preventable. First and foremost, it is important to recognize that, contrary to popular opinion, suicide is not an impulsive decision that happens on the spur of the moment. In fact, 90% of the suicidal tendencies are more likely to be explained by an untreated illness, which could be prevented with timely identification as well as intervention of the same, which means that there could be many clear warning signs of people who might be contemplating suicide. Therefore, by spreading adequate awareness it is actually possible to ensure a timely identification of individuals contemplating suicide and this in itself can be a significant step towards the preventions of such incidents.
Further, a complete understanding of such a phenomenon is necessary in order to ensure the de-stigmatization of suicide and to fight against the hesitation clouding the reporting of such incidents. If you suspect a person of considering suicide, you should not hesitate to talk about it. This will not plant the idea in the person’s head. On the contrary, the person is most likely considering suicide as a last resort. But if you talk about it, you could help the person realize that there could be an alternative available. Instead of overlooking these signs as attention seeking tactics, or not taking them seriously, it is important to be vigilant to these warning signs, and to know how to respond to them.
Role of the Media: Werther Effect Vs. Papageno Effect
It is important to understand that vulnerable individuals are likely to get influenced by the what the portrayal of suicides they see around them, as they are at a risk of what is referred to as the “Werther effect”, especially in situations when the individual is able to identify and relate to the victim being reported about.
What is often not talked about or recognized is the need to encourage a preventive approach, with stories demonstrating positive coping, help seeking behaviour despite adverse circumstances, thereby strengthening protective factors associated with suicide. The relevance of such portrayals can be understood with reference to the “Papageno effect” wherein an individual was reminded of an alternative to resorting to suicide through the media.
Need of the Hour
Yes, it is a reality that suicides are now a worldwide concern, and a national loss. We all need to join hands to create a sensitized environment garnering the empathy and support of the general society at large – the role of families, peers, educational institutions, healthcare providers, as well as policy makers and the community at large.
Creating an awareness and educating people about the signs that could be indicative of some distress being experienced by the individuals who might be contemplating suicide is imperative. An adequate peer support and social network system, family support, school as well as community connectedness could serve as a major factor in lessening the risk of suicides. It is necessary to spread awareness about accessibility as well as referrals to appropriate professional help of counselors and psychiatrists.
In fact, considering the high prevalence of suicide amongst the youth, the promotion of active social skills training is a major step that needs to be encouraged in order to help children and adolescents develop healthier coping mechanisms to deal with their internal conflicts. Such policies are a must especially for school children and teenagers. Efforts should be made to focus on building trust and rapport with them, so as to enable an atmosphere of open communication, encouraging the reporting and sharing of their innermost feelings easily. Parent and community awareness programs need to be created to encourage parental notification and involvement.
Forming a multi-component model for awareness building, preventive strategies as well as training for adequate intervention-based approaches for parents, teachers, as well as students is essential. Further, there is a dire need for the establishment of a student assistance/helpline program to identify risk factors for suicide, and the implementation of a prevention policy to promote adolescents’ resilience and healthy socio-emotional development.
It is the need of the hour to establish strong social support systems to help fight the challenge posed by urban loneliness. Social isolation in itself can be identified as a major contributor towards increasing susceptibility of experiences of loneliness, which further can have an adverse impact on the individual’s mood, anxiety levels, as well as coping mechanisms, all of which put together could culminate in adding to the potential suicidal ideations. We also need to ensure that we all do not neglect our own self-care at the grass-root levels of the society itself, and help work towards the establishment of a National Suicide Prevention Policy to be implemented across the country and help in saving lives.