Don’t let go of life | Sunday Observer

Don’t let go of life

World Suicide Prevention Day falls tomorrow

What is suicide ? It amounts to taking one’s own life by unnatural means. It is seen as a heinous crime and a sin by all the world’s religions. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds. Around 25 more make a suicide attempt during that time, without success.

Sri Lanka’s suicide deaths stood at an all-time high in 1995, according to police records, with a rate of 57 per 100,000 people. The suicide rate has fallen drastically since then and now stands at about 14 or 15 persons for every 100,000 Sri Lankans. Contrary to popular opinion, Sri Lanka does not lead the world’s suicide charts.

Suicide is apparently so widespread that TV networks even have a new term – death by suicide. In Sri Lanka, which once topped world rankings for suicide (in relation to the total population), not a day goes by without coming across a TV news report on a suicide somewhere in the island. There is also a tendency for group suicide, where a mother or father commits suicide along with their children or two young people commit suicide together.

According to expert definitions, suicide is the result of a convergence of genetic, psychological, social and cultural and other risk factors, sometimes combined with experiences of trauma and loss. People who take their own lives represent a heterogeneous group, with unique, complex and multifaceted influences preceding their final act.

Every life lost represents someone’s partner, child, parent, friend or colleague. For each suicide many other persons suffer intense grief or are otherwise affected. This amounts to 108 million people per year who are profoundly impacted by suicidal behaviour. Suicidal behaviour includes suicide, and also encompasses suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. But the saddest fact about suicide is that it is preventable if help is sought either by the suicidal person or those close to him to her. The latter option may not always be possible because some persons may not exhibit any sign of depression or other behavioral changes ahead of their decision to commit suicide.

Tomorrow, on World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), you can make a difference – as a member of society, as a child, as a parent, as a friend, as a colleague or as a neighbour. WSPD, on 10 September, is organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). WHO is a co-sponsor of the Day. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness around the globe that suicide can be prevented.

It takes work to prevent suicide. This year is the first WSPD with the theme ‘Working Together to Prevent Suicide.’ This theme will be retained for WSPD in 2019 and 2020. This theme highlights the most essential ingredient for effective global suicide prevention- collaboration. We all have a role to play and together we can collectively address the challenges presented by suicidal behaviour in society today. A collective effort is necessary to prevent suicide.

Everyone can contribute to this noble cause. Suicidal behaviour is universal, knows no boundaries and could affect anyone. The millions of people affected each year by suicidal behaviour have exclusive insight and unique voices. Their experiences are invaluable for informing suicide prevention measures and influencing the provision of supports for suicidal people and those around them. It is mostly young people who commit suicide, but suicides are reported across all age groups and from both sexes.

The media has a major role to play in preventing suicides. We have seen how some newspaper reports and TV news bulletins glorify suicide, giving step-by-step details on how the suicide was committed. This is highly unethical and totally unnecessary. Sometimes, gory pictures of the deceased are carried without any attempt being made to conceal the identity of the said persons. This again is unethical and could be distressing not only to the relatives but also the public at large. The publication of any details must be measured against the impact that it would cause among the general population. In fact, some countries such as Norway have long restricted the mention of ‘suicide’ in media coverage of such deaths and media outlets rarely include details of how these deaths occurred. Unfortunately, there are some songs and teledramas that seem to glorify suicide and show it as a solution for all life’s ills. Love that ends in heartbreak is often a target for suicide in these songs and teledramas. Young people may be inspired to follow a similar path by watching these programes.

Furthermore, suicides by high-profile persons may inspire copycat suicides. Several well-known actors have committed suicide in Sri Lanka while the recent deaths by suicide of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and dress designer Kate Spade have garnered a lot of attention worldwide. Suicide may seem to be a heroic act for some in this background. The media can highlight what led to these deaths and show others the futility of ending one’s life to get away with life’s problems and challenges. As the saying goes, death does not solve any problems, only living does.

It has been noted that education per se is not a bar to suicide. Several suicides that we came across in the news recently were of university graduates and other similarly educated persons. Unfortunately, the education received in school or university in Sri Lanka does not really focus much on emotional well-being, interpersonal skills, problem solving skills etc as much as it focuses on academics, achievements and success. These elements must be inculcated in children from the early grades. Faced with a major crisis in life, many people have no coping mechanism and veer towards suicide. The lack of emotional literacy” is a huge stumbling block.

Suicide is not a solution for any of life’s problems and ideally should not be seen as one. There are alternative coping mechanisms that one can adapt. Experts have called for equipping young people with the correct skills to cope with failure, to deal with rejection by peers, parents or lovers and to manage interpersonal relationships.

People going through psychological distress often feel completely alone. But mental health advocates urge people to speak to someone near and dear and if that is not possible, to pick up the phone and ask for help from professional counselors. However, in the more remote areas face-to-face access to professional counsellors may be limited. Some have suggested that all doctors should be trained in this sphere, so that anyone can walk into a rural hospital and seek help if having suicidal tendencies.

If you or anyone you know exhibit the following symptoms, try to seek professional help: Feeling sad or having a depressed mood; Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed; Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting; Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much; Loss of energy or increased fatigue; Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech; Feeling worthless or guilty; Difficulty in thinking, concentrating or making decisions; Thoughts of death or suicide. Note that depression per se can be medically treated. There are also more clear warning signs of suicide that include: Often talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide; Making comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless; Expressions of having no reason for living; no sense of purpose in life; saying things like “It would be better if I wasn’t here” or “I want out”; Increased alcohol and/or drug misuse; Withdrawal from friends, family and community; Reckless behavior or more risky activities, seemingly without thinking; Dramatic mood changes and talking about feeling trapped or being a burden to others

According to the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “suicidal experiences are about overwhelming emotional pain where one feels trapped, alone and hopeless. It is not their life that they wish to extinguish; it is this pain they want to kill”. In most cases, if one helps to extinguish that pain or the root cause of that pain, the suicidal tendencies go away. One expert has commented that suicidal thoughts are a sign that perhaps it is not your life that needs to end, but the way that you are living your life that needs to end.

But the best way out of any such thoughts is to make friends with yourself and be nicer to yourself. Others may not be able to help you if you do not want or like to help yourself. Low self esteem can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts. So learn to think positively about yourself at all times and engage in an activity that makes you happy, no matter what situation you are in. There is no need to despair – remember, there are always people having worse problems than you.

But at the end of the day, if you so desire, help is available, no matter the extent of helplessness and despair. One of the most visible help-lines in Sri Lanka is Sumithrayo. The organisation was founded over 40 years ago and offers free over the phone, face-to-face, and online counselling. Helpline volunteers remain anonymous, which they say lowers the mental barrier to calling for help, and protects client confidentiality.

Sumithrayo’s services are open to the public 365 days of the year from 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM, either over the phone or face-to-face by visiting their organisation at No.60B, Horton Place, Colombo 07. Sumithrayo can be reached at 011-269 6666 or help can also be sought via the CCC Line (1333).