With the complexity of society comes the complexity of its social issues. While issues such as bullying, racism, sexism, etc., share the spotlight, there is a very concerning social issue faced every day that needs to be brought to light. Over the past decade, the number of teen suicides per year has increased drastically. Sri Lanka, despite being a tiny island with a population of only 20 million, has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. One of the leading causes of suicide is poverty, but why do the children of Sri Lanka and other South Asian countries feel the need to take their own life?
Last year, a girl killed herself before her A/L results were released because she thought she didn’t do well enough. This year, a girl killed herself because she was raped and conceived a baby, but the court didn’t allow her to abort the baby despite her being a minor. This month, a boy killed himself because he was severely depressed. He tried to get help, but his family told him it was “all in his head” Every day, teenagers in South Asia commit suicide, or attempt to commit suicide, because they don’t feel like they’re good enough, they feel like they’re a burden, and they feel like they’re not heard. Why do we value education and reputation more than our own children’s lives? Therapy is one of the most effective solutions to psychological issues. Still, there are some simple things all of us can do to make everyone feel a little less lonely, to make people feel heard, and cared for.
Ursula Whiteside, a psychologist and a faculty member at the University of Washington School of Medicine, says that simple acts of connection are powerful. “Looking out for each other in general reduces the risk of suicide. Because people who feel connected are less likely to kill themselves,” says Whitehead. “And the earlier you catch someone, the less they have to suffer.” Here are 10 things you can do to make a difference.
01. Be on alert and recognize the warning signs
Signs of suicide risk include changes in mood and behaviour. If someone who is usually part of a group or activity and you notice they stop showing up, or if someone who’s usually very calm and even-tempered is suddenly easily annoyed or angry, try to connect to them. Other signs include feeling depressed, anxious or irritable. Pay attention to what people say as well. They might open up to you about wanting to end their lives or seeing to purpose in waking up again in the morning. Even if they laugh it off, they might be thinking of suicide.
02. Reach out
You see these warning signs in a friend, what do you do now?
Reach out, check in and show you care. The very nature of someone struggling with suicide and depression is that they feel like they’re a burden to others and are not likely to reach out. People who have suicidal thoughts often feel trapped and alone. When someone reaches out, offers support, and shows that they care, It reduces a person’s sense of isolation. Simple questions and statements like “Are you okay?”, “Let me know if you need anything”, and “I’m here if you ever need to talk” can have a big impact on someone who’s in emotional pain and can interrupt the negative spiral that eventually leads to a crisis.
03. Be direct: Ask about suicide
Most people are afraid to bring up the word “suicide” in fear that it might trigger them but suicide prevention experts say that discussing suicide directly and compassionately with a person at risk is key to preventing said risk. Asking questions such as “Have you ever had suicidal thoughts?” and “What do you think of people who kill themselves?” can get them to open up and get some weight off their shoulders. Now that they are talking about it, you know what they’re going through.
04. Don’t panic
A friend confides to you that he or she is thinking of suicide, what do you do now? People often think that those who experience suicidal thoughts are immediately going to jump off a ledge but not everyone who experiences these thoughts needs to be hospitalized immediately. Research shows that most people who’ve had suicidal thoughts haven’t had an overpowering thought that might push them to make an attempt. To simply put it, many more people experience suicidal thoughts than the people who act on these thoughts. How can you identify if the crisis is immediate? This links with step 03. As direct questions like “Are you thinking of doing it soon?” and “How strong are those urges?” For help with this conversation, psychiatrists at Colombia University have developed the Colombia Protocol- a risk-assessment tool drawn from their research-based suicide severity rating scale. It consists of 6 questions you can ask your loved one about whether they’ve had thoughts about suicide, the means of suicide, and the details of how they would carry out their plans. Someone who has a plan is at high risk of acting on it. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, about 38% of people who have a plan make an attempt.
05. Stick around
Even if your loved one isn’t in a crisis, make sure you check up on them, so they don’t feel isolated and uncared for. The simple act of dropping them a message every once in a while can help them feel special. If you’ve accessed the suicide risk and you fear your loved one is in immediate crisis, request them to hold off for a day or so while being validating and gentle. Intense emotions might make someone act on an impulse, and these impulses usually resolve or become manageable in less than 24 or 48 hours. Those at high risk of suicide shouldn’t be left alone in a time of crisis. If you can’t stay with them physically, you can offer to be present virtually via a phone call. Ask whether they have any means of harming themselves at hand and try to remove those things from their environment. Research shows that removing or limiting access to means reduces deaths caused by suicide.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers 5 action steps to take if someone you know is in imminent danger. https://www.bethe1to.com/bethe1to-steps-evidence/ If you don’t feel confident helping someone through a crisis period, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines ).
Here are the National Suicide Prevention Lifelines in South Asia;
Sri Lanka: 1926 – NIMH
1333 – CCC (Offers telephone counselling)
Nepal: 9840021600 – TUTH
9813476123 – PHCH
Pakistan: +92 311 7788 264 – MHIN
06. Listen and be compassionate.
Survivors of suicide attempts say that it is important to listen to those at risk of making an attempt, even if they are not at immediate risk. The most important part is listening in an open-minded way by not being judgmental. Don’t tell them what to do. They’re looking to be heard, to have their feelings validated. Be empathetic and offer hope. Say things like “I know how strong you are. We can get through this together.” Survivors say that friends and family who believed in them at a time of crisis when they had no will no live gave them hope and kept them from giving in to their despair completely. Being someone, a confidante, who believes that they can do something meaningful in life can positively impact them in the long run.
07. Help your loved one make a safety plan
Suicide prevention experts advise people to develop a safety plan, which research has shown can help reduce suicide. It is a plan for them to learn how to cope and get help when a crisis hits. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a template to help you create a safety plan. https://www.mysafetyplan.org/ A safety plan should also include a list of the person’s triggers, warning signs of a coming crisis, people they can reach out to for help act activities they can do to distract themselves during the crisis.
08. Help them get professional help
To prevent a crisis and to see if any medications could help them manage their mood and suicidal thoughts, help them connect to a mental health professional. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is effective in reducing the risk of suicide, it teaches people strategies to calm their minds and distract themselves when suicidal thoughts surface.
Don’t just drop them off at an appointment, wait for them if you can, and most importantly, support them through it. When they feel like they don’t matter and like they’re not worth anything or that there’s no purpose in them staying alive, having a person holding your hand throughout the process can make it easier for them and give them hope.
09. Try to find support online
For those who can’t access mental health care, evidence-based digital tools can help. The app Virtual Hope Box modelled on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques has helped veterans feeling suicidal cope with negative emotions. Websites such as Now Matters Now offer0 videos with personal stories of suicide survivors talking about how they overcame their suicidal thoughts. Stories of survival and coping with suicidal thoughts have a positive effect on people at risk of suicide.
10. Show your love
Most people who feel depressed also feel unloved and uncared for. Show your loved ones you care and try to spend time with them as often as you can.
Topics such as depression, rape, and teenage pregnancies are still considered taboo in Sri Lanka. The older generation refuses to sort out their own issues and then takes it out on their child, who now has psychological issues stemming from childhood trauma. Yet when this child seeks help, it is considered “crazy” and “unnecessary” or they say, “we never did that in our time.” To those of you who are depressed or battle suicidal thoughts, try different ways that will help you get better. Different things work for different people, but don’t lose hope and try to be consistent and find something that works for you. It is the old mindset that ignores mental issues that lead to social issues, so let’s change that. Hear your loved ones out. Don’t ignore them, make them feel loved and wanted; like they’re enough. Little acts of affection just might stop them from jumping off that ledge. Reminder: Not addressing an issue doesn’t mean it suddenly disappears, it only grows.
A/N: There are days when I can't bring myself to sketch, sing, sleep, cook, read, write, eat- all things I usually love doing. Even scrolling through YouTube is tiring and I don’t enjoy it like I usually would. There are those days when I feel like it’s getting worse again, but I’ve realized over the years that a reset is what you need.
Take a day off. Like seriously. A whole day, no work. Sleep in, have a long shower, pet your cat or dog, maintain a journal, drink lots of water and eat well. I know it might sound stupid or ridiculous but sometimes you just need to let yourself be, if that makes sense. And it does get better. The next day you can start working on things that have to get done but remember to take breaks.
Take a walk outside and get some fresh air, water the garden, read a book, annoy your siblings, splatter paint on some paper and have fun creating art. You don’t have to socialize just yet if you don’t want to, and don’t spend your day in front of a screen. Just spend some time alone, have fun (spending time with yourself can be fun, do a skincare face mask or watch anime and if you’re sad and want to cry yourself to sleep, my advice is to just do it. You’ll feel better in the morning. And, there’s nothing wrong with just wanting to let it out, and hopefully, bit by bit, you can and will get things back on track.
These are just some things that work for me, and I hope it works for you please just don’t lose hope. All of you guys are so, so amazing and you have so much more to go. You got this!