SUICIDE AND DEPRESSION
Moving Towards Compassion, Empathy and Understanding
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.
In May 2013, the sixty-sixth World Health Assembly adopted the first-ever Mental Health Action Plan of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Suicide prevention is an integral part of the plan, with the goal of reducing the rate of suicide in countries by 10% by 2020.
Social, psychological, cultural and other factors can interact to lead a person to suicidal behaviour, but the stigma attached to mental disorders and suicide means that many people feel unable to seek help. Despite the evidence that many deaths are preventable, suicide is too often a low priority for governments and policy-makers.
WHO released its first World Suicide Report this year, highlighting the scale of the problem:
- Over 800 000 people die due to suicide every year- one death every forty seconds.
- For every suicide there are many more people who attempt suicide every year.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among fifteen to twenty- nine year olds.
Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO remarked that the report should serve as “a call for action to address a large public health problem which has been shrouded in taboo for far too long.”
To encourage understanding, WHO has released an informative video for parents, carers and sufferers of depression. It advises those living with and caring for people with depression on what to do, what not to do, and where to go for help. (This is a follow up to the widely viewed “I had a Black Dog, his name was Depression” video released by the WHO in 2012)
The report also found that communities play a critical role in suicide prevention. They can provide social support to vulnerable individuals and engage in follow-up care, fight stigma and support those bereaved by suicide. In order to equip communities to provide such support and tackle this stigma, some common myths need to be addressed:
- Myth: Once someone is suicidal, he or she will always remain suicidal.
Fact: Heightened suicide risk is often short-term and situation-specific. While suicidal thoughts may return, they are not permanent and an individual with previously suicidal thoughts and attempts can go on to live a long life.
- Myth: Talking about suicide is a bad idea and can be interpreted as encouragement.
Fact: Given the widespread stigma around suicide, most people who are contemplating suicide do not know who to speak to. Rather than encouraging suicidal behaviour, talking openly can give an individual other options or the time to rethink his/her decision, thereby preventing suicide.
- Myth: Only people with mental disorders are suicidal.
Fact: Suicidal behaviour indicates deep unhappiness but not necessarily mental disorder. Many people living with mental disorders are not affected by suicidal behaviour, and not all people who take their own lives have a mental disorder.
- Myth: Most suicides happen suddenly without warning
Fact: The majority of suicides have been preceded by warning signs, whether verbal or behavioural. Of Course there are some suicides that occur without warning. But it is important to understand what the warning signs are and look out for them.
- Myth: Someone who is suicidal is determined to die.
Fact: On the contrary, suicidal people are often ambivalent about living or dying. Access to emotional support at the right time can prevent suicide.
- Myth: People who talk about suicide do not mean to do it.
Fact: People who talk about suicide may be reaching out for help or support. A significant number of people contemplating suicide are experiencing anxiety, depression and hopelessness and may feel that there is no other option.
With greater compassion, empathy and understanding we can reduce instances of suicide. You can read more about the WHO’s recommendations on the assessment and management of self-harm and suicide here.