World Mental Health Day, 2019
Every year, ‘World Mental Health Day’ is observed on October 10 as decided by World Health Organization (WHO). This year, WHO has chosen Suicide Prevention as the major focus area for World Mental Health Day. I encourage you all to raise awareness about the topic and recognize the role that each one of us can play to prevent it. Let us look at it in detail –
Death. Decease. Expire. Demise.
We may be filled with sadness when we hear these words but passage from life to death is an inevitable part of being human and thus we come to accept it over time. The means by which a person dies on the other hand can stir up varying degrees of emotions within us.
Old Age? Accident? Untimely? SUICIDE?
When a person dies by suicide (taking their own life), an almost instinctive feeling it hits us with as a society is that of shame and stigma. We grapple between feeling sorry for the person, the family that survived them and question everything they did thus far in their life. We are sad yet curious. We offer condolences yet lack compassion.
Why the need to bother?
The numbers are alarming. As estimated by World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 800000 people die due to suicide every year around the globe. These numbers are enough to jolt us into taking notice of this growing epidemic. 1 person dies by suicide every 40 seconds. Let that sink in!
Our national statistics are also worrying. India accounts for over one third of the world’s female suicides annually and close to one fourth of male suicides (Lancet, 2018).
Who is at risk?
Contrary to a popular myth, not all those who die by suicide have a mental illness. Mental illness is only one of the risk factors of suicide. Suicide is a complex, multi-layered concern and a combination of individual, relational, and societal factors contribute to the risks. Some common risk factors include: family history of suicide, history of mental disorders (especially clinical depression), history of substance abuse, physical illness, trauma, and loss (relational or financial) among others.
The tipping point
We may not understand everything about suicide, but we know for certain that there are three important factors that contribute to the final act.
Worthlessness. “My life has no meaning. It is not worth living.”
Hopelessness. “What is the point of carrying on? Every time I feel better something or the other bogs me down.”
Loneliness. “Nobody understands me. Will anyone even care if I die?”
The person is often faced with the dichotomy of willing to live but also desperately wanting to end the pain they are experiencing. They are drained of all their resources to cope with the spiraling emotions.
Signs to look out for
Individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts have mastered the art of masking their pain because of the stigma and shame attached with the topic. Common warning signs to look out for:
Uncharacteristic changes in mood, excessive sadness
Withdrawal from social activities
Recent trauma or crisis
Pre-occupation with death
Giving away personal possessions
How you can help
If you notice any warning signs of suicide, approach your loved one and offer support. Talking about suicide with them will NOT encourage them to do it, in fact, it will assure them that there is someone who cares about them enough to notice the pain they are going through.
Helpful statements: I have noticed XYZ, would you like to share what you are going through? Let’s talk about it. How can I help you feel better?
If a loved one has mustered the courage and shared that they are feeling suicidal with you then don’t panic or dismiss them. Thank them for trusting you and assure confidentiality. Hear them out patiently without offering advice or passing judgements.
Helpful statements: I’m sorry that you are going through this and happy to know that you could share this with me. Thank you for trusting me.
Unhelpful statements: What is wrong with you? How can you be so stupid? Have you not thought about what your family will go through? People face worse problems than this, be strong. Just have a drink, you’ll be fine.
Get Professional Help
Despite best intentions, there is only a certain amount one can do to help a loved one when they are suicidal. While being there for them unconditionally is invaluable and irreplaceable, it is important that you seek professional help (from a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor). If your loved one had a fracture you would take them to a doctor, right? This is no different.
As a society, we need to take more accountability for our collective mental well-being. Make more time for real-time emotional contact. It’s easy to hide the warning signs behind the screen.
This is a guest post written by
Priyanka Bajaria is a Psychologist, Arts-based Therapy Practitioner, and Sex Educator. She has completed her Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Maniben Nanavati Women’s College, Mumbai and has experience working in the mental health care field with a diverse range of populations. She is the founder of Advaita an initiative to provide quality services for mental health care and honor the uniqueness of every individual.