Understanding suicide.

Suicide is one of the topics that people aren’t too comfortable talking about because of the stigma and misconceptions surrounding it. The CDC reports that one person dies by suicide every 11 minutes and that in 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 to 64. These statistics indicate a crisis for people of all ages including children and teenagers.

On most occasions when someone ends their life by suicide, those of us left behind are left questioning why they opted to take that route. People have different reasons for taking their lives so we can’t always pinpoint it to a mental health condition like depression although it is a leading cause of suicide. What we need to do is create safer
spaces where people who are at risk of suicide can be honest about their struggles and get the help they need.
What is suicide?
Suicide is a death that is the result of intentional self-harm. A suicide attempt is harming oneself intending to end one’s life but it does not result in death.

The terms that are appropriate to use when referring to suicide are taking one’s life, death by suicide, a person at risk of suicide and suicide attempt. Avoid using these terms because they suggest negative meanings: committing suicide, successful/unsuccessful suicide and failed suicide.

Who is at risk for suicide?
People of all ages, races and backgrounds are at risk of suicide. You’ve probably heard of very happy, funny and wealthy people who took their lives so suicide doesn’t have a “face” or a typical group of people it affects the most. However, there are life, health and environmental conditions that put people at risk of suicide like problems related to work, finances, substance abuse, relationships, legal issues and basic amenities.

More risk factors include:
• Mental health illnesses like depression and prolonged periods of sadness
• A history of self-harming behaviors like cutting oneself
• A family history of suicide, mental disorders or substance abuse
• Terminal illnesses and chronic pain
• Lack of resilience to cope with stress
• Exposure to violence; sexual and physical abuse and domestic violence
• Incarceration i.e., life in prison and after prison
• Exposure to constant messaging about suicidal behavior from the media, family or peers
• Bullying, harassment, discrimination and shame

Warning signs of suicide
A warning sign is a red alert that means you should pay attention to yourself or someone else whom you suspect might be at risk of suicide. You or this person needs prompt attention and care. Just because someone portrays some warning signs does not mean that they will take their lives – they’re just more at risk. Don’t dismiss these signs as jokes or a cry for attention but approach the situation with care and thoughtfulness.

They include:
• Talking about: taking their own lives or a longing to die/go away from this world, putting an end to the pain they feel, having no reasons to live, feeling lost, empty or hopeless, having no way out of a problem – feeling trapped.
• Feelings like: unbearable pain/grief/sadness, worthlessness, shame, guilt, self-hate, and loneliness. Feeling like a burden or a failure.
• Behaviors like: withdrawal from socialization/isolation, extreme alcohol and substance abuse, saying final goodbyes to friends and family, giving away all belongings without explanations, making a will, self-harming, intentional destructive actions like driving too fast, stocking up on ways to kill oneself like buying guns, poison and pills.
• Dramatic mood changes: aggressiveness, irritability, many depressive episodes, insomnia or irregular sleeping cycles, extreme anxiety, rage, restlessness and sadness.

It’s important to note people with suicidal thoughts may not visibly show these warning signs and that people with these warning signs are not necessarily suicidal. These warning signs could show that someone is struggling to get by and they can use all the help available to them. What you should look out for is a sudden change in mood and behavior which should prompt a conversation on what’s bothering someone.

Is suicide preventable?
Yes, it is preventable. Everyone in society has a role to play in suicide prevention; individuals, employers, communities, media and government. There are multifaceted reasons why people take their own lives and that’s precisely why we need everyone involved in suicide awareness and prevention. We can all learn about the warning signs of suicide and how to help and get help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, kindly book a consultation with us for therapy. You are not alone on this journey. Don’t give up on yourself or on life.