Do you know that every 40 seconds, someone in the world commits suicide? According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year and it is the second leading cause of death in 15 to 30 year-olds. It is, also, thought that for every successful suicide, there are 25 failed attempts.
Suicide in African communities is considered a taboo topic and most people are ill informed and ill equipped to handle it. It is for this reason that we need to debunk myths surrounding this issue.
Myth:Talking about suicide is a bad idea, it may give someone the idea to try it.
Fact:Suicidal people have no outlet for their thoughts and concerns. They often feel isolated and alone. They also feel that they will burden others with their issues and opt to keep to themselves. This can be catastrophic. If you are concerned that someone may be suicidal, open up the discussion about it — it could save a life. People who have felt suicidal will often say what a huge relief it was to be able to talk about their dark thoughts. Talking about it often helps them realise that there are other options to suicide.
Myth:Children and teens cannot get depressed — there is nothing stressful in their lives!
Fact:Children as young as 10 can get depressed. Clinical depression is a mental illness not just a product of social circumstances or age. You can have every material thing you desire but still be depressed.
Myth: Suicide is impulsive
Fact:Suicide is rarely an impulsive action. Most people who commit suicide tend to have had suicidal thoughts long before. In fact, some people even organise their lives and make wills, divide property, resign from work, visit family to say goodbye as part of their plan to commit suicide.
Myth:Stress causes suicide
Fact: Sometimes, relatives of people who committed suicide blame themselves for the event. For example, if a woman leaves her husband and he goes and jumps off a bridge, she and everyone around her may blame her for his suicide. This is the wrong perception of causation of suicide. Suicide has triggers — things that push a suicidal person to kill himself or herself. These include losing a loved one, losing a job, going bankrupt. The person was thinking about killing himself and his wife leaving him was just the trigger. She is not to blame for his choices and actions.
Myth:Inability to cope with depression is a sign of weakness
Fact: Unfortunately, the word ‘depression’ is used loosely to mean ‘low mood’ — this gives us the impression that you can ‘snap out of it’ if you have sufficient willpower. This is, however, not true for clinical depression. This is an illness that has been found to result in changes in the brain chemical balance and must be viewed as such. You cannot ‘snap out’ of clinical depression and your ability to cope with it has nothing to do with moral strength or weakness.
Myth: Once someone is intent on committing suicide, you cannot stop him or her
Fact:Suicide is preventable in most cases. Most suicidal people do not want to die. They just want the pain and internal turmoil they are dealing with to end. When they cannot find a means of dealing with it, this is when they resort to ending their lives.
Myth:Suicidal people just want attention and are selfish.
Fact:This is far from the truth. Suicide attempts and thoughts are a cry for help and should never be ignored. They come from deep despair and desperation and are not attention seeking behaviour. When a person contemplates leaving everyone that loves them including dependents like children, it is not being selfish; one has just reached the end of their tether. The decision to end one’s life is never taken lightly by the person with these thoughts; it is often contemplated over months, sometimes even years before it is actualised.
Myth:Suicidal thoughts are shameful that need to be kept a ‘family secret’
Fact:A suicidal person needs all the help they can get. Unless you are a professional counsellor/ psychiatrist, you do not have the necessary skill set to deal with a suicidal person. Dealing with it on your own can mentally and emotionally overwhelm you. Always seek professional help when you realise that a loved one is suicidal. Do not shame them or put them down but encourage them to open up. Be an integral part of their support system but do not go through the journey with them alone.
Myth: Committing suicide is hereditary
Fact: Mental health problems such as depression can be more common in a particular family than another. However, attempting suicide is not genetically inherited.
Myth:Only certain types of people become suicidal
Fact:Everyone has the potential for suicide — regardless of social economic status, success in life, age or gender. It is not unusual to hear someone comment, ‘Why did he commit suicide? He had everything one would want from life!’ Being suicidal has nothing to do with one’s social standing — it is much more complex than this.
Myth:Since he is much happier now, he will not attempt suicide again
Fact:Often, the opposite is true. In the three months following an attempt, a person is at most risk of completing suicide. It is not unusual for a person who has decided to commit suicide to be at complete peace with their decision and even appear happier than normal. Most suicides that occur during this ‘happy period’ come as a shock to loved ones because they thought that the crisis period was over.
The suicidal warning signs can be subtle and should never be ignored. They include:
Talking about suicide, death or self-harm Personality changes such as nervousness, outbursts of anger/irritability, impulsive or reckless behaviour and unexplained crying Feelings of worthlessness, self-hatred, guilt, shame or saying they feel like a burden Getting their affairs in order by drawing up a will or giving away prized possessions Withdrawing from friends and family Unexpectedly resigning from work, dropping out of school and neglecting social activities Making unexpected visits or calls to friends and family to say goodbye Major changes in sleep or eating patterns — too much or too little. No longer cares about appearance or health. Lack of interest in the future. Suicides are preventable. Take a minute, change a life.