September 10 is observed as World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD). The day is organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), a non-governmental organisation in official relationship with the World Health Organisation (WHO). The purpose of the day is to raise awareness around the globe that suicide can be prevented.
Jamaica has a low suicide rate. However, statistics from the Ministry of Health show that between 1999 and 2009, a total of 1,725 persons were seen and discharged from the accident and emergency departments at government hospitals for attempted suicide. One of the primary reasons for suicide is depression, which may be caused by factors such as loss of employment, domestic or family dysfunction, severe illness, the death of a loved one and worry about the level of crime and violence in the society. It is also affecting younger members of the society, as a study from the University of the West Indies, Mona, done in 2013 showed that 71.9 per cent of local high-school students were suffering from mild to severe symptoms of depression.
Today, we share some vital information on how you can help someone considering suicide.
- Know the warning signs. These include suicidal threats in the form of direct and indirect statements, a marked change in behaviour or appearance, a preoccupation with death, the giving away of prized possessions and, perhaps the most telling, previous suicide attempts. ‘Read Signs of Suicidal Tendency Among Jamaican Teens’ Part 1 and Part 2 for more details.
- Confront the situation, not the person. If you have noticed any of these signs in a family member or friend, you may ask the person directly if s/he is contemplating suicide. The US-based National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) suggests that you focus on your concern for the person’s well-being, listen and reassure him/her that help is available. Avoid being judgemental.
- Get help. Contact a counselor or other mental health professional as soon as possible. Unless you are a trained counselor or psycholohist, do not attempt to handle the situation on your own. For teens, the NASP advises, “Peers should not agree to keep the suicidal thoughts a secret and instead should tell an adult, such as a parent, teacher, or [guidance counselor]. Parents should seek help from school or community mental health resources as soon as possible. School staff should take the student to the designated school mental health professional or administrator.”
- Follow up. Don’t assume that the person is ‘cured’ from suicidal tendencies after a counseling session or two, or if s/he has been placed on medication for depression. Be on the lookout for a recurrence of the warning signs. Ensure that the person keeps his/her counselling appointments. Constant supervision is especially important with children, teens or the elderly.
- Clear the environment. Remove or lock up means of self harm such as firearms, knives and medication from his/her environment.
For more information and assistance, contact Choose Life International, a local faith-based NGO that works to prevent suicide; the Jamaica Psychiatric Association or the nearest counseling resource, such as a place of worship or school guidance counsellor.