Let’s talk about Suicide as we are here for and with you !
By Dr Brighton Chireka
Every year on the 10th October we commemorate World Mental Health day. Soon it will be Christmas time and how some of us wish we could have our loved ones with us to celebrate. Sadly they could not take life anymore , sadly they could not see any point of carrying on with their misery. They decided to take their own lives as the solution but today we are still in pain asking several questions as to what happened and why it happened. We keep on asking but no one has the answer and at times we wish our loved ones had written letters or even shared with us their life problems. Sometimes we wish we had take them seriously and listened to their cry for help.
We all have heard or know of someone who has tried to commit or committed suicide. It’s not easy to lose a loved one through suicide be it a daughter , a son , parent , partner or a friend. Our views about the situation varies as most of us do not know how to react or help out someone in such a situation. Our statements with good intentions may make things worse and I hope this article will make all of us pose and reflect on this issue of suicide.
My first encounter with suicide was at tender age when I was at high school and one of my friends ended his life. We were in form two and one Saturday night we saw our late friend taking some tablets . We asked him why he was taking the tablets and he told us that he wanted to lose weight. In our ignorance we just left him taking the “slimming tablets”. He came to join us later in the hall to watch the television and I remember him wearing my new green tracksuit jacket . As friends we would share clothes and little did I know that he will die wearing my tracksuit jacket.
Early hours of Sunday morning he started to cry in pain and was taken to the school clinic and an ambulance was called . He confessed to having taken an overdose of anti – malaria tablets and sadly he died before the ambulance could arrive. It was difficult for us students who shared the same dormitory with him . It was a huge blow to me as I was very close to him and the fact that he never told me that he was having problems. A lot of stories were said about why he took his life but the truth is that no one knows why he ended his life.
Our headmaster told us not to alert other students of what had happened until breakfast time. The headmaster was visibly shaken and when he stood up to break the bad news to the rest of the school one could see how shaken he was. With hindsight they should have waited for all students to finish their food and then break the news. No they did not do that , they went to announce as soon as all students had gathered and some were starting to have their breakfast already.
The problem was that our late friend was well known by the whole school as he was a footballer and played for the school first team although he was in form two. When the headmaster made the announcement that our friend was no more the whole dining hall became like a funeral parlour and chaotic as some girls fainted and some were crying on top of their voices. Most students could not eat their breakfast as the news was too much for them. Teachers and prefects had a hard time trying to control the situation in the dining hall.
That following week any student who wanted to go home was easily given a pass to do so . It used to be difficult to get permission to go home from our boarding school. Later that week a school bus was then arranged and we went for the burial of our friend in Chitungwiza and it was chaotic again as some girls continued to faint . When we came back I was called by the headmaster and was given my green tracksuit jacket but I refused to take it as I was scared. I do not know why I refused to take it and I also stopped wearing the tracksuit bottom as well.
Several years later I am a medical doctor and I am seeing more and more people who have reached the end of their tether and want to end their lives. Majority are not successful as the measures that we put in place to help them do work sometimes. Sadly some die regardless of the help available but it’s a very small number so my message is that we can do something to help each other as a community.
What is suicide?
It is the act of intentionally ending one’s life.
Why do some people take their own life?
There is no single reason why someone may try to take their own life.
There are certain things that increase that risk such as;
A person may be more likely to have suicidal thoughts if they have a mental health condition, such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia . Misusing alcohol or drugs and having a poor job security can also make a person more vulnerable. Divorce, death of a loved one, or blackmail may tip someone over the edge . Naming and shaming of people as well as being too critical of someone can sometimes result in them contemplating ending their lives.
It’s not always possible to prevent suicidal thoughts, but keeping one’s mind healthy with regular exercise, healthy eating and maintaining friendships can help one to cope better with stressful or upsetting situations.
What can you do if someone is suicidal ?
If you’re worried that someone you know may be considering suicide, try to encourage them to talk about how they are feeling. Listening is the best way to help. Try to avoid offering solutions and try not to judge. We tend to try and offer solutions but our statements may make things worse. Statements such as , ” I know how you feel ” must not be used as we know that you do not know how that person feels. First listen to them. Do not panic or rush to call an ambulance unless they are threatening to jump off the bridge.
Some will say to the person trying to end their life that there are so young and have every reason to live for but we tend to forget that if someone is in misery and you tell them that they have more years to live for . They will be annoyed by you because what you will be saying is that they should look forward to more years of misery. The reason why there are trying to end their life is their perception that it’s terrible and unbearable.
Sometimes we tell them that we hope they will not do something stupid. This is judgemental and will not allow someone to open up . Already you have concluded that their intention is stupid and do not be surprised when they do not listen to you . It would be better to say that you have heard or seen that there are suicidal and you are concerned. You can ask if there are safe and offer to help if that will make their situation better.
We tend to tell our loved ones that their situation is temporary so they should not think of suicide as it is a permanent solution to a temporary situation. This can be true to some people but others may be suffering from a chronic condition making them depressed all the time so this statement may be an insult. It’s better to listen first before we come up with our judgements.
Some advise their loved one to stop worrying or thinking about their problems but fail to provide them with means and ways of doing that. It is better and helpful to offer to take out that person , write them a story , send them a card , lend them a book or pay for them to go to the gym or take them to your church if you are a christian.
Many a times I have heard people saying that these people who try to commit suicidal are attention seekers. I hope that this statement does not reach the person who is suicidal at that moment . Crying for help is good and if someone does self harm only without ending their life then we should be able to reassure them that we are there and we are there for them and we are not going away . That reassurance will make them less likely to seek more attention as they will know that they have support around them. We need to keep in regular contact with our loved ones. We can take turns to take them out , accompany them to the gym or church.
We must remember that people who talk about being suicidal do commit suicide. The sad thing is that the public wrongly think that those who talk about it will not do it. We must take seriously any threats of ending life and we must not panic but calm down and listen first to the person feeling suicidal. Do not rush into false promises like tomorrow or next week you will be fine. The person may have been feeling like that for three months so your reassurance will come up as not making sense. If you listen first and ask how you can help to make the situation better and that you are there to help and you will not leave , will make the situation better in most cases.
Let’s meet on Monday as I go into part 2 which will look in detail into how we can identify people who are at increased risk of suicide and what we can do to help and prevent loss of life. I will also present figures and research done on suicide.
You may want to read about depression
Kindly share and leave me a comment.
This article was compiled by Dr Brighton Chireka who is a GP and a Patient Engagement Advocate (PEA) in Folkestone Kent in UK. You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org or read his work on DR CHIREKA’S BLOG
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Dr Chireka has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.