Community//

You, Me and Suicide Prevention

Three essential tips for helping a person who may be at risk of committing suicide.

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Panuwat Dangsungnoen/Getty images
Panuwat Dangsungnoen/Getty images

Despite being the most preventable kind of death, suicide rates continue to rise globally. This continuous increase could result from the challenges associated with confronting suicide and suicide-related issues. A study in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine predicts that suicide rates will continue to rise significantly in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic; this makes it imperative, now more than ever, to shine a spotlight on suicide prevention.

Worldwide, 1.5 people die every minute due to suicide.

In most parts of the world, suicidal behavior is condemned for cultural and religious reasons or sometimes even punishable by law. Consequently, due to stigma and a lack of awareness, suicide prevention is inadequately addressed. As a result, many people who have attempted suicide or are considering it do not seek help.

Here are some 2016 (most current) suicide statistics from the World Health Organization:

  • 800,000 people die worldwide due to suicide every year (That’s about 1.5 people every minute).
  • In Africa, there are 11.96 suicidal deaths per 100,000 people yearly.
  • In Nigeria, there are 17.3 suicidal deaths per 100,000 people yearly.
  • 79% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Suicide is the 3rd largest cause of death of people ages 15 -45.

Suicide prevention should be an ongoing conversation, and everyone should be a part of the discussion. So, in the spirit of September being Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, here are three essential tips to helping a person who may be suicidal.

1. Ask the Suicide Question

While it is normal to feel anxious or confused when you identify suicide warning signs, it is crucial to act fast as you may be the only person in the position to intervene. There are two approaches to asking the suicide question: The Direct and the Indirect Method.

The Indirect approach involves asking questions about the individual’s mental health and well-being and inquiring if they have a passive suicidal wish (i.e., they may not necessarily want to hurt themselves, they just want to stop living). You can ask them questions like, “Are you unhappy?” “Are you so unhappy that you are considering killing yourself?” or “Do you ever wish you could go to sleep and never wake up?”

On the other hand, the Direct Approach is what it sounds like – ask the individual directly if they consider suicide. You can ask them questions like “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

It is a common misconception that asking someone about suicide will make them angry or increase the risk of committing suicide. Asking someone about suicidal thoughts opens up a communication line and shows them that somebody cares – this can lower the risk of them following through with their intended action. However, we must be careful and avoid asking in disparaging ways, such as, “You’re not thinking of doing anything stupid, are you?” Asking questions in this manner may make the person feel judged or think you do not want to know, and it prevents them from sharing their problems.

2. Listen with Empathy

Once the individual has started opening up to you, listening to them patiently and without judgment is critical. Let them talk about why they want to end their lives. Suicide is not the problem; it is a solution to a seemingly overwhelming problem. So, talking can be a relief to the person. But, do not try to convince them that suicide is wrong, or tell them how their actions will negatively impact their loved ones – this may shut down communication and impede their chances of getting support. Instead, reassure them that you care and that they are loved. Offer to help them or assist them in getting help.

3. Be Armed with Resources

When engaging a person you perceive to be at risk of committing suicide, it is vital to have options for getting help readily available. They may want assistance with making an appointment with a health professional such as a counselor or therapist; in this case, the best option is to take them to a professional immediately. Alternatively, you can get a commitment from them to accept help and then proceed with making the necessary arrangements. You can also provide referred information such as crisis helplines, pamphlets, and contact information of relevant organizations and professionals and try to get a good-faith commitment from them to explore the options presented before taking any actions towards suicide.

I am not a licensed professional, but I am QPR certified, and that training backs the knowledge I have shared. Nonetheless, I do not have to be a licensed professional to help prevent suicide, and neither do you. A common myth is that only experts can prevent suicide. The fact is that suicide prevention is everybody’s business, and anyone can be a suicide prevention ally and help prevent suicide. All it takes is providing hope in any form.

Hope SAVES Lives.

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