Suicide prevention: Removing stigma around mental health, watching out for warning signs are key measures
According to the WHO, India has the highest suicide rate among the South-East Asian countries at 16.5 suicides per 100,000 people.
When a life is lost to suicide - be it somebody young, old, a friend or somebody you never met - grieving the loss of life and potential is normal and necessary. Grief is a natural process that helps us cope. But when it comes to suicide, the response should go beyond grieving, simply because suicide is preventable.
"We all need to understand that suicide is one of the top ten killers in the world, and depression is the single largest illness in the world,” says Dr Samir Parikh, an eminent psychiatrist and Director of the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare. “It has nothing to do with your personality, background, class, status or success because it’s just like any other type of illness.”
The need to understand that depression is a medical condition is very important, Dr Parikh points out. “Any of us can get malaria, typhoid or even COVID-19 today, and any of us can get depression as well. I can be depressed, you can be depressed and 300 million people globally are depressed,” he says. “We need to realise that each one of us has multiple stressors in life. It’s important that we realise this, and that we bring resilience, support, compassion and empathy into the picture. And we need to bring the medical understanding of mental health into the narrative so that people can reach out without hesitation, or fear of stigma.”
Why suicide prevention should be your goal
According to the World Health Organization’s report on suicide rates across the world, which was released last year, India has the highest suicide rate among the South-East Asian countries at 16.5 suicides per 100,000 people. Further data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors study shows that in 2016, India accounted for 36.6 percent of all suicide deaths in women and 24.3 percent of the same in men, despite having only 18 percent of the overall world population.
These statistics are alarming, and given the rise of difficult situations since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the occurrence of mental health disorders like depression are expected to continue to rise. Unfortunately, this might also lead to a lot of people feeling vulnerable and in need of immediate help to prevent suicide. The best that you can do is to play your part by making suicide prevention a goal and using the following actionable targets.
1. Remove the stigma: Talk more about mental health issues, depression and suicides in every circle to ensure the stigma attached to coming out in the open about your mental health is removed. This is of primary importance as stigma is what inhibits those who need help in reaching out, and it’s the responsibility of individuals and communities as much as the government to drive it away.
2. Watch for warning signs: It’s not just people who’ve made past attempts who are at high risk of committing suicides. You should learn all you can about the warning signs for suicide - like withdrawal from the world, sudden calmness, self-harming behaviour and making preparations - and reach out to people who show these signs. It’s also very important to take threats of suicide seriously, especially among adolescents.
3. Reach out: Approaching someone who is suicidal should be done in a sensitive manner, so you need to be able to engage with them, explore their situation without judgement, identify the suicide risk by asking directly if they’re contemplating it, assess the situation based on both your gut feeling and the clearly present risk factors. If you have any doubts about your ability to speak to the person, reach out to someone who may be better equipped to do so. When it comes to suicide, doing too much is always better than doing nothing.
4. Get trained: The general public should be informed about the most effective suicide prevention methods. Just like CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), there’s a method called QPR (“Question, Persuade, Refer”) which is effective in preventing suicides. Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality or the CAMS approach is another technique that should be made easily available for all to learn.
5. Build resources: It’s not enough to give people suicide prevention helpline numbers or telling them to approach a mental health professional. There should be increased efforts for suicide prevention at the individual, community, regional/vernacular and national levels. Dr Parikh, for example, says it’s high time India has a National Suicide Prevention Policy. Increased efforts to build these resources, widespread campaigns about their easy access and effectiveness, and role models from all fields demystifying mental health issues can help build confidence in the vulnerable.
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