World Suicide Prevention Day 2010 theme: “Many faces, many places: Suicide prevention across the world”
It would seem that the concept of suicide isn’t taken seriously by most people. In fact, it’s become the butt of several jokes. I think this is attributed to the sensationalized way the media presents suicide. It’s been portrayed ridiculously in soap operas, become mere inserts in television newscasts, and been demoted as tabloid articles. The process of suicide ideation is not taken as seriously as it should!
It’s Not Just About Killing Oneself
When news of a live suicide attempt comes up on TV, i.e., somebody attempting to jump from a skyscraper or a tall billboard, people instantly see if the suicidal person will do it or not. If the body of a person who committed suicide is discovered, people want to know how that person killed himself: Was it through a hangman’s noose? Drinking household poisons or muriatic acid? Shooting himself in the head? Slashing his wrists and bleeding himself to death? Apparently, every time the topic of suicide comes up, people will generally look at the act of suicide.
“What triggers suicidal ideation?” is a question that should be pondered on instead. Besides looking at the gruesome details of killing oneself, we should firstly consider the reasons or the triggering factors that gave rise to the act of suicide. Essentially, every suicide attempt has a story behind it. Some contributing factors to being suicidal include:
Associated psychiatric illness. It is common knowledge that people who have mental illnesses are at risk for suicide, but not all of them. In adults, those who have mood disorders (depression and bipolar disorders) and substance abuse cases (alcoholism and drug abuse) are at risk. Young people, on the other hand, are at risk if they have conduct disorders and depression.
Personal traits leading to suicide. People who possess certain characteristics may well be at risk for suicide. These characteristics include: Aggression, depression, hopelessness, and impulsivity. These characteristics can lead to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and/or having an antisocial personality, both of which may well be triggering personality disorders.
Traumatic life experiences. This is another well-known trigger for suicidal ideation. Examples of these would be an early death of a loved one, a debilitating chronic illness, the loss of hard-earned possessions, and a painful divorce/separation. These situations may very well bring about suicidal tendencies if the person going through them does not receive adequate social support.
Genetics and family history. Psychiatric illnesses can be passed down through a family’s generations and because of this, the risk for suicidal tendencies can also be passed down along with them. Having a family history of suicide could also be an indicator for possible suicidal ideation.
People who exhibit the aforementioned signs should be given proper social/peer/family support so as to depress suicidal ideation and to help the person cope with the situation he is facing. It is important that the root cause be determined and properly understood in order to effectively manage suicidal ideation.
Hopelessness has Many Faces
How is it that supposedly life-loving people suddenly become suicidal?
As a nurse, I have learned that the top indicator for suicidal intent is hopelessness. It can be identified in the way a person talks, the stories and experiences that he shares, his facial expression, and having an overall gloomy or depressed state. Nevertheless, hopelessness has many faces. A person can appear bright and bubbly on the surface, but is actually depressed and feeling hopeless within.
It can be really difficult to assess if a person is hopeless or is at risk for suicide ideation. The best thing to do is to divert the person’s attention from possible/perceived/on-going suicidal thoughts. Here are some general interventions when you’re caught in a situation involving a suicidal person:
1. Take the suicide threat seriously. Fortunately, most people with suicidal tendencies consciously or unconsciously seek attention from the people around them. They do this by uttering statements like, “I want to end all of this,” or “I might want to kill my self.” This should serve as a warning for friends or family to come to the aid of the person contemplating suicide.
2. Treat the consequences of the suicide attempt. When an unsuccessful suicide attempt is made, it is important to tend to the repercussions of that attempt. Examples would be wrist or neck wounds, bruises, fractures, or a slight drug overdose.
3. Prevent further self-injury. It is of utmost importance that you check on the suicidal person at random intervals. If possible, you should always stay with the person. The reason for this is because a person who has attempted suicide may have the tendency to do it again.
4. Arrange for admission to any suicide management institution. In our country, most suicidal persons are admitted to psychiatric, mental health, or social care units/centers. Families of suicidal persons should consult therapists or psychiatric physicians regarding the potential for a suicide re-attempt and follow-up care.
5. Reach out to victims and survivors of suicide. Families who have loved ones who committed suicide are often stigmatized in society. It is important that they receive social support and unwavering understanding from those around them.
Generally, a suicide attempt is more convincing if someone you don’t know comes up to you and says that he had suicidal ideas. Suicidal persons tend to seek attention from complete strangers. Of course, because you feel uncomfortable in such a situation, you tend to ignore the suicidal person’s message and dismiss him as a crazy person or a prankster. Think through the suicide message sent and determine its authenticity. If it is indeed authentic, take empathy and the responsibility of saving a person’s life in any way that you can.
Visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for more information on suicide. You could also get suicide prevention activities from that site.
Take a moment to read the World Suicide Day Prevention Brochure.
And, you can read an article “saying no to suicide,” published more than a week ago at The Philippine Star. Brief statistical reports on suicide in the Philippines are mentioned there, like the frequency, age group, and causes.