Anxiety group encourages people to have tough conversations about suicide
Creating hope through action reminds society about help towards suicide prevention
Do you talk to your family and friends about suicide?
If you’re not, ask yourself why.
Clinical social worker and Netcare compassion coach Sandy Lewis describes suicide as “the final symptom of a brain that is no longer able to cope, just like any other type of organ failure, it is the result of an illness that has become terminal”.
“Some people die by suicide without necessarily showing their intentions. If you have an uneasy feeling that someone may be thinking about suicide, it is very likely that by this time, the person is already well advanced with their plans to die.
“For a person to consider suicide, the distress and suffering they are experiencing seems inescapable and endless, exceeding their perceived capacity to cope. Suicide may seem like the only way to escape the pain when a person feels their heart is broken, their soul is shattered and their body can no longer fight. A person’s mind may beg for release, even at the expense of life itself,” says Lewis.
She says the risk factors for suicide are a combination of biological, psychological and social factors “often all coming together at once in a potentially lethal mix that leaves a person buckling under the unbearable weight of their pain, worry, fear, grief and despair”.
For the month of September, which is marked as Suicide Prevention Month, the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) is encouraging you and I to have tough conversations about suicide.
The organisation says one in four calls they receive are suicide-related, with the majority of callers aged between 19 to 35.
“Depression doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone, anywhere, [at] any age. The leading cause of suicide is undiagnosed or untreated depression – so the first step to helping to prevent suicide is the early-identification of symptoms, encouraging people to get help and linking people to care, treatment and support,” says Sadag board member Dr Frans Korb.
Sunday is World Suicide Prevention Day and the global theme is Creating Hope Through Action.
“Creating Hope Through Action is a reminder that there is help towards suicide prevention and that our actions, no matter how big or small, may provide hope to those who are struggling.
“We can act by reaching out to someone who may be in distress, encouraging understanding around the issue and having the courage to start conversations about suicide. Through our actions we can also let people experiencing suicidal thoughts know that there is hope and that we want to support them,” says Sadag operations director Cassey Chambers.
“Sometimes we don’t always have the language or courage to have a tough conversation about suicide – for World Suicide Prevention Day, Sadag will be dedicating the month of September to helping parents, teachers, family, friends, colleagues and the community with the skills, tools and language to help have more conversations around mental illness and suicide prevention and share different ways to check in and support someone who may be struggling.
“People are afraid that if they talk about suicide, it could “plant the seed. But by normalising conversations around mental health and suicide prevention, we make it more comfortable to talk about these important issues in our homes, at work, with our family and friends – and more importantly, with people who need support and help.”
The organisation on Friday hosted a live chat about suicide on social media network Facebook with spokesperson Vanishaa Gordhan saying having a good support system is very important.
She emphasised the importance of how to handle a conversation where someone tells you they are suicidal
“The first thing is to not be shocked at that. To know that I’m in this space and my friend has now told me this. That means they confide in you, that means they trust me and I have to come from that space of complete non-judgment, care and support.”
Lewis says judgment simply alienates the person in their loneliest hour and cuts off sorely needed potential support.
“Please take notice and extend a hand to anyone who might be at risk. Treat the warning signs of suicide as a medical emergency and do not leave the suicidal person alone. We should never underestimate the power of a kind presence when a person is in despair. Loneliness often tips a person from holding on to life to the decision to die.”
She says one should “never dismiss, brush off, shame, minimise, invalidate or turn away from a suicidal person when they are trying to communicate their distress and their intentions”.
“It is a myth that talking about suicide will increase the chances of it happening. We should never avoid having a conversation that could save a life.
“It can be difficult to find the words to open these conversations, and a helpful start could be, ‘It must be so very hard for you to be feeling like this, I would really like to understand and offer my help to you’. Most importantly, let the person know they are not alone,” says Lewis.
Gordhan says the next step to take once someone opens up about being suicidal is to look at how you can help that person either by calling for professional help or removing them from certain environments.
“Help them unpack their very deep fear or any emotions they might be feeling with someone that can really give them those coping skills.”
Sadag is encouraging “Hope Through Action” through various activations and recommendations:
Kindness Outreach – Do acts of kindness throughout the month to show you care and offer support by checking in with a loved one, offering to spend time together and chat, offering a compliment, helping someone in need or sharing a smile to someone who is having a bad day.
Break the stigma – Share information, normalising critical conversations and encouraging people to open up.
Join the Conversation – Join Sadag’s weekly “Ask the Expert” Facebook live (@TheSADAG) every Friday at 1pm, as we talk about how to have tough conversations, suicide language – how we talk about suicide matters, what to do after a suicide attempt and teen suicide prevention.
Hope in action – Join the online #HaveHope awareness campaign through Sadag’s social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok) helping us to flood social media with hope. By sharing messages of hope and support to anyone feeling sad, depressed, alone or isolated.
If you or a loved one is struggling to cope, reach out to Sadag by calling their 24-hour toll-free helpline on 0800 456 789 or send an SMS to 31393 or chat to a counsellor live on their WhatsApp Chatline on 076 882 2775 (8am to 5pm).
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