Suicide – a public health problem
Over the last month or so, several young people have been turning to suicide as a way out of their problems. Suicide may seem to be the easy way out, but it can leave those behind in immense pain and grief. Suicide is a public health problem that is most times linked to mental illness or the inability to cope with life’s stresses.
Although suicide is not a disease, it is a tragic endpoint of many complex conditions and diseases and is a leading cause of death worldwide.
According to the World Health Organization, globally, suicides represent 1.4% of the Global Burden of Disease, but the losses extend much further.
Persons who commit suicide do not normally do so “out of the blue”. Normally there are signs that indicate that something is wrong. Persons who are close to them may realize that they are stressed and that their habits may have changed. They may start using drugs or turn to alcohol as ways of trying to solve their problems. They may isolate themselves so that others do not notice their problem or the way they are reacting. Sometimes, they explicitly make statements that would indicate that they are ready to give up. It is important that persons who are close to them identify these signs and support them. Do not brush them aside. A simple telephone call or a text message asking if they are okay can cause them to open up and discuss the situation.
You might need to be prepared to have difficult conversations about what is going on in their life and how they are feeling. Keep listening to them and don’t avoid talking about suicide or the hard things in their life. Don’t give up on them and try not to lose contact with them, even if it seems like they are ignoring you.
Help them feel there is hope of things getting better and identify positive things in their life that can shift the focus away from thinking about the bad. If they don’t want to talk with you, ask other people you both trust to support them. These may include friends, family or church members, youth workers or others. Remember to be discrete about it and maintain privacy and confidentiality.
Help them to access professional help, like a doctor or counsellor. You could offer to go with them or help them to make appointments.
The main aspect of supporting someone through this type of situation is compassion, listening and most importantly not over-reacting or becoming upset. Remaining calm and talking the situation through is extremely important.
Dr. Rosmond Adams, MD is a medical doctor and a public health specialist with training in bioethics and ethical issues in medicine, the life sciences and research. He is a lecturer of medical ethics.
He is the Head of Health Information, Communicable Disease and Emergency Response at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). He is also a member of the World Health Organization Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs.
(The views expressed here are not written on behalf of CARPHA nor the WHO). You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org