To prevent suicide, we need to be aware of the risk factors and educate ourselves on what role each of us can play in preventing such tragedies - Rakhi Beekrum. Picture: Pinterest

OPINION - According to the World Health Organisation, someone loses their life to suicide every 40 seconds.

The South African suicide rate is higher than the global average. This is alarming because suicide is preventable.

For every suicide, there are reportedly 20 attempts in South Africa.

To prevent suicide, we need to be aware of the risk factors and educate ourselves on what role each of us can play in preventing such tragedies.

Mental illness is closely linked to suicide. Those who suffer from mood disorders - such as depression and bipolar disorder - are more likely to kill themselves.

Other factors are increased substance misuse, stressful life events (such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, economic difficulties, break-ups/divorce, and trauma or abuse).

However, treatment is available that can help prevent suicide. I often hear comments such as, someone is “looking for attention” or “they’ll never do it”.

When someone threatens to commit suicide, it is a sign they need help. The only way to end the stigma around a suicide threat is by talking about it. However, if we are unwilling to listen with compassion and empathy, those who need help will be reluctant to reach out.

Never dismiss or minimise someone’s feelings when they say they are not coping. Comments such as “think positively”, “snap out of it” or “what do you have to be depressed about?” prevent those who need help from speaking up. The best thing you can do is to genuinely listen.

Pay attention to changes in behaviour, such as someone becoming more withdrawn. Listen for comments such as “I wish I could just end it” or “I would be better off dead”.

These are signs that a person is feeling hopeless.

With the correct help, suicide can be prevented.

I notice that some families tend to skirt around such serious issues. Perhaps it is because they don’t know any better. When someone’s life is at risk, it is important to let the affected person know you care and will assist them in getting professional help. Do not wait, and hope they will feel better.

If someone is depressed, professional help is necessary. If someone is acutely suicidal, it is important to get them immediate help by taking them to a hospital. Never leave someone who you think is suicidal alone. Also, restrict access to any means of suicide such as tablets or firearms.

Statistics reveal that men are more likely to kill themselves. One reason for this is that men are less likely than women to seek help or talk about their feelings.

They often become aggressive or turn to substances as coping mechanisms.

This is often because boys are raised with the dangerous notion that “men don’t cry”.

The other reason for the gender difference is because men tend to use more violent methods, such as hanging or firearms.

Having said that, we must not link the lethality of the method with intent. Anyone that tries is suffering and needs help.

How do you know when to seek help for yourself or someone else? Look out for symptoms such as persistent sadness, feelings of hopelessness, seeing no reason to live, withdrawal, tearfulness, increased substance use (including over-the-counter medication), aggression, extreme fatigue, sleep disturbances, excessive loss of appetite or emotional eating.

Note that people who commit suicide often appear fine just before the act. That is often because they have made peace with their decision.

Also remember that no one wants to kill themselves. What they actually want is a way out of suffering. They may not see a way, but if they were able to speak about it, they would realise that help is available.

Remember that your genuine care, compassion, and empathy can save a life. Listening is love in action - so truly listen in order to be of help.

This World Mental Health Day, we are all urged to dedicate at least 40 seconds to reduce the stigma and give hope.

So, share informative articles, use social media to create awareness, check up on loved ones who you think may be suffering and in general be compassionate to all.

* Beekrum is a psychologist in Durban North. Her research on suicidal behaviour has been published in the South African Journal of Psychology.