The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 million people die each year from suicide. Picture: Pexels/ Kat Jayne
The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 million people die each year from suicide. Picture: Pexels/ Kat Jayne

World Suicide Prevention Day: In this time of global crisis we need to heed cries for help

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Sep 10, 2020

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Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. Blinded by feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness and isolation, a suicidal person can’t see any way of finding relief except through death.

The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 million people die each year from suicide.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Amid the harsh realities of the pandemic and its consequences a renewed focus on suicide prevention is vital.

In South Africa, there are 23 recorded suicides a day, and for every suicide there are a further 20 attempted suicides.

Dr Mvuyiso Talatala, a board member of the Psychiatry Management Group (PsychMG) said mental illness was a risk factor for suicide. Suicidal thoughts and behaviour are among the symptoms of depression.

Chronic mental illness may cause feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness leading to severe depression and even suicide.

“Patients with schizophrenia may hear voices commanding them to commit suicide. At times it could be an impulsive act during a period of acute distress in one’s life,” said Talatala.

However, suicidal thoughts are treatable.

“The aim is to manage the underlying illness that is presenting with suicide. This includes psychotherapy and necessary medications. Suicidal patients must be sent to the nearest health professional for acute containment and management of the risk of suicide. A supportive family environment is very useful.”

Cassey Chambers, South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) operations director, says it is important to get professional help as soon as possible – depression is a real medical illness that needs real treatment. If you know someone who may be thinking about or preparing to hurt themselves or even take their life, it is important that you get them to a mental health professional as soon as possible. Of those who commit suicide, 75% tell someone first. So if you identify the warning signs, get them help and you could save a life.

Sadag says a person who is suicidal needs to know you care. Listen to them. Ask questions. Help the person discuss their feelings. Here are some tips from Sadag.

Learn all you can about depression.

You might be that person's only source of information. Let them know you care. Remind them that they shouldn't feel ashamed or guilty. Avoid saying things like “snap out of it”. Let them know their feelings are caused by an illness that can be treated.

Invite them out. They might not want to go at first. If they say no, ask them again later, or offer to stay in and spend time with them.

If you are worried they might be suicidal, ask them, and help them get help. A straightforward, caring question about suicide will not cause someone to start having suicidal thoughts. If they are thinking of suicide, don't promise secrecy. Tell someone you trust immediately.

Talk to the person about attending a support group meeting if there is one. It can help them to learn that they are not alone.

Make sure they do not have access to things that can cause injury, such as knives, guns, alcohol or drugs.

Do not take responsibility for making your friend or family member well. You are not a therapist.

If the person is in immediate danger, take the person to a hospital or clinic.

The Suicide Helpline is available to offer free 24-hour telephone counselling, crisis intervention, information and referrals nationwide on 0800 567 567 or via SMS 31393.

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