Since 2003, World Suicide Prevention day (WPSD) has been held on September 10th every year. WSPD is an initiative of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). It serves as a call to action to individuals and organisations to prevent suicide.
The theme for 2015 is ‘Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives’. The aim of the theme is to encourage us all to consider the role that offering support may play in combating suicide.
In Ireland, it is estimated that over 500 people commit suicide every year. According to the recently released World Health Organisation (WHO) report: Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative, over 800,000 people die by suicide across the world each year. The report notes that this estimate is conservative, with the real figure likely to be higher because of the stigma associated with suicide, lack of reliable death recording procedures, and religious or legal sanctions against suicide in some countries.
The Stigma of Suicide
Stigma is defined as "a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person”. And today’s society does a very good job of saddling suicide with stigma.
This is why it is not uncommon to hear victims of suicide referred to as sinful, weak, or manipulative. It’s also possible for entire families to forgo talking about the person at all because they consider suicide to be to shameful. We label the victim – she was selfish, he was crazy, they took the easy way out.
Perhaps this is done in an effort to make sense of suicide. Often, it is sudden, jolting and catastrophic. We are left with conflicting emotions of anger, guilt, sadness, confusion and regret. But it is always that dreaded question of why that haunts us.
There is no one reason why people commit suicide. It be the result of depression, PTSD or any other mental health disorder, or it can be the fallout from a tragic event in a person’s life. The one common thing that people who commit suicide feel is hopelessness.
They are hurting so badly and want the pain to end, but they can’t see a way of it ever going away. When a person’s thoughts get this negative, about their circumstances or even about themselves, they can’t find a reason to live. They think their problems are unsolvable and they feel completely out of control. Also, because of the stigma associated with suicide and mental illness, many people who recognise that they need help do not seek it.
What Can I Do
According to the IASP, the act of showing care and concern to someone who may be vulnerable to suicide can be a game-changer. Asking them whether they are OK, listening to what they have to say in a non-judgmental way, and letting them know you care, can all have a significant impact. Isolation increases the risk of suicide, and, conversely, having strong social connections is protective against it, so being there for someone who has become disconnected can be life-saving.
If you are not sure whether someone you know is at risk of suicide look out for the following signs. It should be noted that risk is greater if a behaviour is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss or change.
- Displaying symptoms of depression
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
- Looking for a way to kill oneself or taking steps to find to find means to kill oneself, e.g. searching online, buying a gun/rope/poisons, stockpiling medication
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others e.g. “Everyone would be better off without me”
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Becoming withdrawn or isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
Additional warning signs of suicide include:
- Preoccupation with death, dying or violence
- Suddenly happier, calmer (this is sometimes a sign that the person has made the decision to take his or her own life)
- Loss of interest in things one cares about
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
- Making arrangements; tying up loose ends or setting one's affairs in order
- Giving things away, such as prized possessions
If you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide, tell someone who can help right away i.e. a family member, friend, your doctor or the HSE. If you need immediate assistance call emergency services or go to your nearest hospital straight away.
The Samaritans is also available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone struggling to cope. For confidential, non-judgemental support please call 116 123 in the Republic of Ireland or 08457 90 90 90 in Northern Ireland, email email@example.com, or visit www.samaritans.ie for details of the nearest branch.