According to a report by National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB), there was a sharp rise in the number of deaths by suicide. In absolute terms, there were 153,052 deaths by suicides in 2020. This is the highest number since 1967; the earliest period for which data is available, says Dr Sana Rubiyana, Counselling Psychologist, Fortis La Femme Hospital, Richmond Road, Bengaluru. Suicide is death caused by self-inflicted injury with the intent to end one’s life. Suicide most often occurs when stressors and mental health issues come together to create an experience of hopelessness, helplessness and despair. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated. Conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance-related problems, especially when unaddressed, increase the risk for suicide. Dr Rubiyana tells us more about how we can help those dealing with such issues to get them away from the thoughts of suicide.
Risk Factors For Suicide
Although you may not know what might cause a friend or loved one to attempt suicide, these are some risk factors you should know:
• Has attempted suicide in the past
• Has a mental health condition such as depression, mood disorders, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders
• Has long term pain or is terminally ill
• Has expressed feelings of helplessness or/and hopelessness
• Has issues with money or legal problems
• Has shown violent or impulsive behaviours in the past
• Has substance or alcohol abuse problems, is socially isolated and lacks social support
• Has a family history of death by suicide
• Is going through a breakup, divorce or death. Has a history of abuse, neglect or bullying of any sort.
Cultural and societal factors also play an important role in increasing the risk. The stigma around mental health makes a person feel ashamed or afraid to ask for help. A lack of access to healthcare services, especially limited mental health services increases the risk.
Some of the more common warning signs of someone with suicidal ideation are that of a person having long-lasting sadness and mood swings. Depression is a major risk factor for suicide. The person chooses to be alone, isolates or avoids friends, family and social activities. They also lose interest or pleasure in activities they previously enjoyed. There is a change in a person’s behaviour and attitude, such as speaking or moving with unusual slowness. The person engages in dangerous activities or shows self-harm behaviours. A person experiencing recent trauma or life crises such as the death of a loved one or pet, divorce or break up of a relationship, diagnosis of major illness, loss of a job or serious financial problem can also be susceptible to depression. The person talks about feeling hopeless, being a burden to others, feeling trapped, stuck or having no reason to live. These are the obvious signs to watch out for.
In many cases, suicide can be prevented by learning the risk factors for suicide, knowing the signs of depression and other mental health conditions, as also by recognizing suicide warning signs, and providing empathetic ears and a caring support system. People who receive support from caring friends and family and who have access to mental health services are less likely to act on their suicidal impulses than are those who are isolated from support.
What a person needs is…
• Easy access to mental health care services and being proactive about mental health
• Feeling connected to family and getting community support
• Being taught life skills such as problem-solving skills and coping skills
• Having limited access to lethal means
• Cultural and religious beliefs that encourage connecting and help-seeking behaviour while also creating a sense of purpose and self-worth
Mental health education in itself is suicide prevention. People of all ages need to learn about mental health and mental illness. How can we expect people to reach out when they are struggling with, if…
• They don’t know what’s going on?
• They don’t know that they can be helped?
• They don’t who can help them?
• They don’t know that they are not alone with their experiences?
• They have been taught to see mental health struggles as shameful or as a personal weakness?
• They have never been taught how to seek help?
• They have never been taught when to ask for help?
• They don’t know how to describe their experience?
Mental health is a vital component of holistic health and this should be reflected in school curriculums and in the way we talk about it. Everyone should have easy access to comprehensive, destigmatized and accurate information about mental health.
Not everyone who is considering suicide will say so, and not everyone who threatens suicide will follow through with it. However, every threat of suicide should be taken seriously and immediate help, care and support should be provided.
Also Read: Depression in Women: Understanding Women Health Better