Reach out – 5 tips on how to support someone who may be suicidal

There is no single cause for suicide, although depression is cited as the most common associated condition. And while there has been progress in national suicide prevention strategies in some countries within the past five years, much more is needed.

The total number of countries with suicide prevention activities stands at a low 38, notes the World Health Organization (WHO), and governments need to step up.

“Despite progress, one person still dies every 40 seconds from suicide,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Every death is a tragedy for family, friends and colleagues. Yet suicides are preventable. We call on all countries to incorporate proven suicide prevention strategies into national health and education programmes in a sustainable way.”

The facts are worrying:

  • There are approximately 23 suicides a day in South Africa.
  • South Africa also has the sixth highest rate of suicide in Africa.
  • South African men are said to be more likely to commit suicide than women.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29 year olds globally.
  • 79% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.

If a friend or family member mentions suicide or self-harm, take them seriously. 

Spot the danger signs

Suicide warning signs usually include:

  • Talking about suicide 
  • Seeking access to lethal means, such as guns, knives, pills, etc.
  • Feeling hopeless or anxious
  • Self-destructive behaviour such as alcohol and/or drug abuse
  • Getting affairs in order, including drawing up a will and giving away possessions

Always take a disclosure of suicidal thoughts seriously. It is a myth that people who talk about suicide are less likely to follow through with it, or are simply doing it in an attempt to seek attention.

For a complete guide on suicide awareness guide, check out this list

Talk openly and initiate dialogue in a non-judgemental way

Don’t try to argue with the person. Instead, empathise with their expressed emotions: try to listen to what they’re saying to you, and, most importantly, avoid interrupting them until you are certain that they are finished. Be compassionate and make it known that you are there to listen.

Try to keep them distracted and socialised

Try to keep your loved one occupied by giving them engaging and constructive things to do. A suicidal person will often feel hopeless, helpless and isolated. Encourage them to contact their local GP, local counselling service or an anonymous phone line such as the Suicide Crisis Line or the LifeLine crisis service (see contact information below).

Suggest adopting a pet

Research has shown that pets can help reduce stress anxiety and depression, although veterinary social worker Dr Magdie van Heerden says that there is no standard intervention with therapeutic animals that will work for everyone.

“Each case of depression needs to be treated differently and an emotional support dog can play a significant role in the treatment process.”

A pet alone may not prevent suicide, but can provide healing. However, van Heerden cautions that these animals are not therapeutic tools to be used only when needed, as they too experience stress and their quality of life also needs to be considered.

Stay connected

Even after your loved one has sought help and seems to be on a healthy path to healing, encourage others to check in on them during this vulnerable time. Many suicides occur during a period of apparent improvement, so never underestimate this step.  

For a suicidal emergency call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group on 0800 567 567. Their 24-hour helpline is 0800 12 13 14.

LifeLine, a free counselling service also offers a free counselling line and can be contacted on 021 461 1111 or via their WhatsApp call on 063 709 2620.  

*September 10 marks World Suicide Prevention Day – a day dedicated to raising awareness of the risks of suicide and the challenges faced when trying to prevent death by suicide.

Image: iStock

Read more on: anxiety suicide depression

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