Thursday 23 January, 2020

Depression and suicide: What you need to know

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day 2016.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, worldwide, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.

75 percent of global suicides also occur in low- and middle-income countries, with ingestion of pesticides, hanging and firearms being the most common methods of suicide.

Suicidal thoughts happen to everyone at some point in time.  WHO reports that many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness.

In addition, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behaviour.

Suicide rates are also high amongst vulnerable groups who experience discrimination, such as refugees and migrants; indigenous peoples; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) persons; and prisoners.

By far, the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.

Here are 10 myths to dispel about suicide:

1. Myth: Nothing will stop someone who is serious about suicide

Truth: There is often a belief that someone who truly wants to die by suicide will do so, no matter what kind of intervention friends and family take on their behalf. It’s important to remember that those who die by suicide may be conflicted about the act, and if they saw any other way out, they would take it. Their desire to live is not gone; their desire to live without pain has simply become the stronger force.

2. Myth: Suicidal people are unwilling to seek help

This is not true. Many who have died by suicide previously sought help through counselors, therapists, doctors and even family members. In fact, studies show that more than half of all suicide victims sought help within six months before they died.

3. Myth: Talking about suicide might prompt someone to do it

This is a dangerous misconception as it prevents those who are suffering from dealing with the problem at hand. By staying silent about suicide, there is the risk of making the suicidal person feel even more alone and isolated. Discussing suicide can make someone open up about their own suicidal thoughts, and that can lead to then getting the help they need.

4. Myth: They don’t really have anything to be upset about

Those who die by suicide do so for a wide variety of reasons. What might seem like a terrible situation to one person could look like an easily-surmountable situation to someone else. In fact, trivializing someone else’s pain can isolate them even further and increase their depression.

5. Myth: They must be insane

Suicide is the most serious symptom of major depression, which is an illness. One of the leading risk factors for having suicidal thoughts and behavior is having major depressive disorder or other mental illness, according to expert A. Michele Tedder. Dismissing someone as “crazy” dismisses the pain they are feeling and the illness they are experiencing.

The person who attempts or dies from suicide may be experiencing mental illness, but they aren’t necessarily insane. In most cases, those who die by suicide are feeling distraught, lost, hopeless, depressed, or filled with grief.


Here are warning signs to look out for:

1. Talks about suicide   

Whether it’s explicit “I’m going to go kill myself,” implicit “I don’t deserve to live,” or more subtle “I’m constantly in pain,” any discussion about suicide is a warning sign.

2. Drastic change in personality

Increased aggression, irritability, anxiety or feelings of sadness that are out of the ordinary for the person.

3. Pursuit of dangerous objects or supplies        

An attempt to acquire items that could be used to end one’s life (without an alternate explanation), such as poison, firearms or knives.

4. Apathy to the future

An abnormal level of indifference to the future, whether it be failing to plan ahead or lack of excitement for a pleasurable or positive future event.

5. Disposal of important possessions    

Giving away, destroying or selling (for an unreasonably low price) objects that were once highly prized by the individual.

6. Increased or beginning use drugs or alcohol 

A significant rise in the consumption of alcohol or drugs, or the use of such substances when the individual never took them before.

7. Reduced interest in activities commonly enjoyed      

No longer engaging or participating in things once enjoyed. This can include ceasing long-term hobbies or other important causes.

8. Unusual level of calmness     

An abnormal level of peace when one was usually or recently uptight, depressed, anxious or upset.

9. Isolation        

Spending less time with friends, family, coworkers or other people whose company was previously enjoyed. New or increased desire to be left alone.

10. Organization and future planning of one’s affairs    

A sudden and unusual level of preparation of tasks such as writing a will, selling substantial assets or making arrangements for one’s absence can be a signal of a potential suicide.

11. Increased reckless behavior               

Taking risks that put themselves or others in danger, either at a higher frequency or in an uncharacteristic manner.

12. Change in sleeping habits   

A substantial increase or decrease in sleeping patterns without a medical reason.

13. Saying goodbye        

Telling friends, family and acquaintances goodbye for no apparent reason.

14. Previous suicide attempts   

Depending on the reason and whether that reason still exists, a prior suicide attempt can be a strong indication that that the individual will try again.

15. Obsession with death or suicide      

An unusual or increased level of fascination or respect for death or suicide. Can also include artistic expression of death, suicide or similar themes.

16. Self-hate     

Unusual or unjustified feelings of low self-esteem, worthlessness, shame or guilt.


How you can help

  • Observe persons carefully. Listen and watch for changes in behavior or expressions of self-harm.
  • Seek help from a professional. Contact a doctor or counsellor to seek the best way forward.
  • Watch out for external influences like a damaging relationship or bullying.
  • Show support. Spending time with those suffering from depression and listening to them can go a long way in understanding and helping to deal with the problem.
  • Keep the environment safe. If a teenager has previously attempted suicide, make sure to keep any damaging objects secure where it is less likely to be noticed.


Read more from LearnPsychology: Suicide and Depression Awareness for Students 

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