Qn.“Our news channels have become awash with endless stories about suicide across all age groups. What could be the problem?”
We start with some numbers that you might find interesting and, which in some ways support your observation.
In 2016, there were 302 cases of suicide reported to the police in Kenya. This number jumped to 421 last year. So, even if media houses reported only on suicides that were alerted to the police, there would be more than one death by suicide each day!
Of the suicides in 2017, and like happens in most parts of the world, 78 per cent (330) were men. The numbers in USA are even more alarming. Between 1999 and 2016, the rate of suicide in the population went up by 28 per cent! The World Health Organisation estimates that every year one million people die of suicide, a number that translates to one death by suicide every 40 seconds. WHO further estimates that by 2020, there will be one suicide every 20 seconds! If any disease killed this number of people every year, it would without doubt be declared a major emergency and more resources would be applied to its prevention. For many reasons, suicide is a low priority and people continue to die! More people lose life due to suicide than from all the road traffic accidents that the media report with such horror!
There is no doubt that most of the people who commit suicide suffer from depression. It stands to reason, therefore, that recognition and proper treatment of depression is critical in the prevention of suicide.
Some people get suicidal thoughts in the context of death of a loved one, financial difficulties as well as feelings of remorse and or rejection. Broken marriages and loss of employment are sometimes blamed for thoughts of suicide.
As often happens in life, things are not as simple as we would like them to be. Let me explain.
During times of great stress, whether family, financial or work-related, some people who do not suffer from depression get fleeting thoughts of suicide. In such cases, one feels so desperate that for a few moments the thought that death might be a good way out comes to mind. That is where the thought ends, and the person does not take any further steps towards suicide.
At the other extreme, doctors report that most people who commit suicide will have told a person close to them that they are contemplating suicide!
Many years ago, a young man under our care told his mother that he felt depressed and that he was feeling suicidal. For whatever reason, the mother did not take that young man seriously and even told him where he would find a rope that he could use to kill himself. The following morning, the mother was the first person to find the young man hanging from a tree in her own compound!
Many other cases where a priest, uncle, teacher or even the police are told about suicidal intent are on record. Some doctors fear to ask patients about suicidal thoughts on the mistaken notion that he would be “planting” the idea to the patient! The opposite is, however, the case. Patients feel relieved when asked about suicidal thoughts by their doctors.
In such cases, the patients go on to describe thoughts or feelings of being trapped or hopelessness. Others talk of unbearable emotional pain while others talk of mood swings.
There are, however, some serious danger signs that warn us of potential suicide. Any evidence of alcohol or drug abuse must be taken note of. A person who talks of death, violence and revenge must be taken seriously.
When a wife tells her husband that she has become a burden to him and the children and that she must die to let everybody else get on with their lives, chances are high that such a person will kill themselves.
Other people talk about being bad and think they should never have been born and only exist to “fill space” here on earth, whereas others have gone as far as posting messages of goodbye on Face book!
Whoever gets told by a loved one that death seems a viable option out of the problems of this world, must act with speed if that life is to be saved.
Suicide attempts are a medical emergency and only a qualified doctor can help in evaluating the danger posed to life by such an attempt.