The theme of this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day is ‘Creating Hope Through Action’ It takes place on September 10 each year and it is an opportunity for us to raise awareness and support the commitment to prevent suicides.
We all experience joy, as well as tough moments in life. However, incessant feelings of hopelessness, despair and isolation can lead to a proclivity of suicidal ideation.
The stigma related to suicide is closely associated with the stigma related to mental health problems. Many believe that suicide is neither predictable nor preventable. Furthermore, in some countries, it is illegal. Hence, society is generally reluctant to discuss the subject openly. Only 38 countries have a national suicide prevention strategy.
The taboo surrounding the subject means there is a lack of quality data due to under-reporting and misclassification of suicide as a cause of death. Despite the difficulties, treatments are available and suicide is preventable. However, the determinants of success lie beyond the condition of the victim. Community, social and policies play important roles.
Where We Stand
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2019, more than 700 000 people died by suicide: one in every 100 deaths and that it was the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds.
It recognizes suicide as a public health priority.
“We cannot – and must not – ignore suicide,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “Each one is a tragedy. Our attention to suicide prevention is even more important now, after many months living with the COVID-19 pandemic, with many of the risk factors for suicide ̶ job loss, financial stress and social isolation – still very much present. The new guidance that WHO is releasing today provides a clear path for stepping up suicide prevention efforts.”
Awareness and Empathy for Individuals at Risk
Groups who experience discrimination or those undergoing an economic or emotional crisis may find themselves more vulnerable.
Some psychiatric conditions predisposing to suicide are mood disorders like depressive or bipolar disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, and behavioural disorders. Other influences include environmental and sociological conditions like childhood or family adversity.
Research tells us that biological or genetics determining ‘impulsive’ or ‘reactive aggression’ may also add to this dangerous cocktail of destructive forces. Impulsive aggression is correlated with a variance of serotonin levels in the central nervous system which can be passed on genetically.
This means for example, that treating depression without dealing with impulsiveness may not be sufficient to prevent suicide. As impulsiveness is related to the risk of suicide, restricting access to common agents of suicide like firearms, lethal medication or pesticides can help prevent incidents. Exposure to the sensational media reportage of suicide may also influence those already susceptible.
More Intervention is Needed
We need to improve methods of detecting individuals at risk as well as available treatments. To do this, educating and training professionals in recognition of symptoms and treatments is imperative.
As a society, we should help and support victims rather than stigmatize and shame them. We can inform the public and suicide survivors of possible treatments and where to obtain help. Support from legislation in improving available care and generating more public awareness is of paramount importance.
We can also set journalistic standards that result in responsible and accurate reporting as opposed to sensational coverage.
What we know about the complexities of what pushes someone to take their life is still limited. To be able to treat patients more effectively, more funding needs to be dedicated to research projects on different aspects, from psychosocial to neurobiological perspectives.
There are small actions we can take that can make a big impact. Reach out to a friend who is feeling down. We may not have all the answers but we can show we care by listening without judging. Sharing our experiences of overcoming periods of stress and crisis can inspire hope in others. Finding a professional who can help someone in need can be a turning point.
Compassion goes a long way in reducing these prevalent yet preventable tragedies.