World Suicide Prevention Day is on September 10 with the theme of working together to prevent suicide. This year the International Association for Suicide Prevention is encouraging each of us to take a minute every day to reach out and check in with someone – and maybe change the course of their life.
Across the world, one person commits suicide every 40 seconds, and for every person dying at their own hand, there are further 25 suicide attempts. In South Africa suicide is the third greatest cause of unnatural deaths with an estimated six to eight thousand people committing suicide every year, or 18 people every day. Sadly suicide also occurs most frequently among young people aged 15-24.
The underlying cause of suicide is usually the coming together of many different factors, even though the final step might be triggered by a single event. A large percentage of those who commit or attempt suicide are suffering from depression at the time. Other contributing factors could be related to academic performance; problems with social or romantic relationships; social isolation; problems within the family, such as violence or abuse; high levels of stress; or a traumatic event.
There are several warning signs that someone might not be coping and be at risk of suicide. This includes talking about wanting to rather be dead and being excessively self-critical or expressing feelings of hopelessness and failure. Many potential victims show changes in their normal personality and behaviour such as being angry or agitated all the time, no longer wanting to go out with family and friends, not sleeping well or sleeping all the time, or neglecting their personal care and appearance.
We are all part of a community and can help to prevent suicide by just looking out for one another and supporting those who are vulnerable. Sometimes all it takes is to look at what is going on with the people around you and then reach out when you notice that something is different by simply asking if they are OK. Then listen actively to their story with compassion and without judging.
Don’t be worried about not knowing what to say – those in distress often just need someone to take a minute to care and really listen. When you have won their trust you could also refer them for professional help if needed, for example to the SA Depression and Anxiety Group’s 24-hour suicide helpline at 0800 567 567.