World Suicide Prevention Day is an awareness day observed on September 10th every year, in order to provide worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides, with various activities around the world since 2003.
According to the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), every year suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds. Every life lost represents someone’s partner, child, parent, friend or colleague. For each suicide approximately 135 people suffer intense grief or are otherwise affected. This amounts to 108 million people per year who are profoundly impacted by suicidal behaviour. Suicidal behaviour includes suicide, and also encompases suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. For every suicide, 25 people make a suicide attempt and many more have serious thoughts of suicide.
I am not an expert on this subject so I reached out to Befrienders Kenya for some help with today’s post. They are a charitable organization focusing on suicide prevention by offering emotional support to those who may be in distress and therefore in danger of dying by suicide as well as creating awareness on suicide within communities. It is so far, the only organization in Kenya with a specific focus on suicide prevention.
The information below is lifted from the Befrienders Kenya website that you can check out here.
Befrienders Kenya – Help I want to kill myself
You don’t make a decision today – You don’t need to act on your thoughts right now. The option of taking your own life isn’t going to go away. You can make this decision tomorrow, next week or next month if you still want to. When you are feeling so bad that you want to take your own life, the thought of just getting through the next few days seem unbearable. Try to focus on just getting through today and not the rest of your life. It may feel that the way you usually cope with these feelings is weaker today. You may not feel able to imagine getting through this.
Avoid focusing on your suicidal thoughts – You might feel that it is impossible not to focus on your suicidal thoughts or why you feel that way. However, focusing on these thoughts can make them stronger and harder to resist acting on them.
Avoid alcohol or drugs – Using alcohol or drugs can make your feelings of suicide stronger. Drugs and alcohol can also make you more impulsive where you might act on sudden urges.
Keep yourself safe – Go to a place where you feel safe and where you do not have anything you can use to harm yourself, such as razors or pills. This place might be your bedroom, a mental health centre, library or gym. If you have a lot of medication you can ask someone to hold onto it for you until these feelings pass or contact us on +254722178177 for confidential, non-judgemental emotional support.
Most people experience ups and downs in their life, and can feel unhappy, depressed, stressed or anxious during difficult times. This is a normal part of life. Many difficult events and experiences can leave us in low spirits or cause depression: relationship problems, bereavement, sleep problems, stress at work, bullying, illness and pain being just a few. Changes to hormones, such as during puberty, after childbirth and during the menopause, can also have an effect on your emotional and mental health.
However, a low mood will tend to improve after a short time. Making some small changes in your life, such as resolving a difficult situation or talking about your problems and getting more sleep, can improve your mood.
A low mood that doesn’t go away can be a sign of depression. Symptoms of depression can include the following:
- continuous low mood or sadness
- feeling hopeless and helpless
- having low self-esteem
- feeling tearful
- feeling guilt-ridden
- feeling irritable and intolerant of others
- having no motivation or interest in things
- finding it difficult to make decisions
- not getting any enjoyment out of life
- having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
- feeling anxious or worries
Why people attempt suicide?
Despite being a leading cause of death worldwide, there is little hard evidence to explain why some people attempt suicide. Most people who choose to end their lives do so for complex reasons. Research has shown many people who die by suicide have a mental illness, most commonly depression or an alcohol problem. In many cases, suicide is also linked to feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.
Vulnerability to Suicide
Many experts believe a number of things determine how vulnerable a person is to suicidal thinking and behaviour. These include: life history – for example, having a traumatic experience during childhood, a history of sexual or physical abuse, or a history of parental neglect, mental health – for example, developing a serious mental health condition, such as schizophrenia, lifestyle – for example, if you misuse drugs or misuse alcohol, employment – such as poor job security, low levels of job satisfaction or being unemployed relationships – being socially isolated, being a victim of bullying or having few close relationships genetics and family history.
In addition, a stressful event may push a person “over the edge”, leading to suicidal thinking and behaviour. It may only take a minor event, such as having an argument with a partner. Or it may take one or more stressful or upsetting events before a person feels suicidal, such as the break-up of a significant relationship, a partner dying or being diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Mental Health Conditions
It’s estimated 90% of people who attempt or die by suicide have one or more mental health conditions. However, in some cases, the condition may not have been formally diagnosed by a clinician. Conditions leading to the biggest risk of suicide are described below.
- Severe depression– causes symptoms of low mood, tiredness, loss of interest, despair and hopelessness that interfere with a person’s life. People with severe depression are much more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
- Bipolar Disorder– causes a person’s mood to swing from feeling very high and happy to feeling very low and depressed. About one in three people with bipolar disorder will attempt suicide at least once. People with bipolar disorder are 20 times more likely to attempt suicide than people without it.
- Schizophrenia– is a long-term mental health condition that typically causes hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not real), delusions (believing in things that are not true) and changes in behaviour. It’s estimated that one in 20 people with schizophrenia will take their own life. People with schizophrenia are most at risk of suicide when their symptoms first begin. This is because they frequently suffer loss at this time – for example, loss of employment and relationships. It’s also increased when people with schizophrenia experience depression. The risk tends to reduce over time. People with schizophrenia are also at increased risk of self-harm.
- Borderline personality disorder– is characterized by unstable emotions, disturbed thinking patterns, impulsive behaviour and intense but unstable relationships with other people. People with a borderline personality disorder often have a history of childhood sexual abuse. They have a particularly high risk of suicide. Self-harm is often a key symptom of this condition. It’s estimated just over half of people with borderline personality disorder will make at least one suicide attempt.
- Anorexia Nervosa- is an eating disorder. People with anorexia feel fat and try to keep their weight as low as possible. They do this by strictly controlling and limiting what they eat, as well as sometimes inducing vomiting. It’s estimated around one in five people with anorexia will make at least one suicide attempt. Anorexia is associated with a high risk of suicide.
Other risk factors for suicide include:
- being gay, lesbian or transgender, arising from the prejudice these groups often face
- being in debt
- being homeless
- being a war veteran
- being in prison or recently released from prison
- working in an occupation that provides access to potential ways of dying by suicide, such as working as a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, farmer or as a member of the armed forces
- exposure to other people with suicidal behaviour, especially close friends or family members
Antidepressants and suicide risk– Some people experience suicidal thoughts when they first take antidepressants. Young people under 25 seem particularly at risk.
Contact your doctor or go to your local hospital if you have thoughts of killing or harming yourself at any time while taking antidepressants.
It may be useful to tell a relative or close friend if you have started taking antidepressants. Ask them to read the leaflet that comes with your medication. Also ask them to tell you if they think your symptoms are getting worse or if they are worried about changes in your behaviour.
Genetics and suicide– Suicide and some mental health problems can run in families. This has led to speculation that certain genes may be associated with suicide.
However, it would be too simple to claim there’s a “suicide gene” as the factors leading to suicide are complex and wide ranging. Genetics may influence personality factors (such as acting impulsively or aggressively) that may increase the risk of suicidal behaviour, especially when a person is depressed.
Other theories– An American psychologist called Thomas Joiner developed a theory known as the interpersonal theory of suicide. The theory states three main factors which can cause someone to turn to suicide. They are:
- a perception (usually mistaken) they are alone in the world and no one really cares about them
- a feeling (again, usually mistaken) they are a burden on others and people would be better off if they were dead
- fearlessness towards pain and death
The theory argues fearlessness towards pain and self-harm may be learnt over time, which could explain the strong association between self-harming behaviour and suicide.
People who are regularly exposed to the suffering and pain of others may develop this fearlessness over time. This could help explain why suicide rates are higher in occupations linked to such exposure, such as soldiers, nurses and doctors.
Suicidal Risk Factors Specific to College Students
- New environment
- Loss of a social network
- Loss of the safety net found at home
- Pressure academically or socially
- Isolation and alienation
- Lack of coping skills
- Difficulty adjusting to new demands of college life
- Decreased academic performance and subsequent feelings of failure
- Experimentation with drugs and alcohol
Protective Factors that can HELP
- Supportive social and family network
- Problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills
- Ability to regulate emotions
- Ability to cope
- Positive view of future
- Cultural or religious beliefs that discourage suicide
- Access to mental health care