Actions: Reach in, Encourage understanding, and Share experiences in creating hope.
Intentionally taking one’s own life, or committing suicide, has caused about 700,000 deaths worldwide each year. 77% of suicide cases in 2019 occurred in low and middle-income countries, and more than half (58%) of suicide victims are below the age of 50 years(1).
In Malaysia, 468 deaths by suicide were recorded between January to May 2021, while 2020 and 2019 recorded 631 and 609 deaths respectively(2).
Suicidal thoughts are complex, and risk factors include mental illness, experiences of child abuse or bullying, financial difficulties and impulsive tendencies. Individuals struggling with depression are 20 times more likely to die by suicide.
There are protective factors that could reduce the likelihood of suicide, such as social connectedness, a sense of belonging, and life coping skills(3).
World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on 10 September annually, since 2003(4). This year, the theme is “Creating Hope Through Action”.
Often, individuals who end up taking their own lives experience hopelessness and unbearable psychological pain. The decision to end one’s life does not usually happen overnight. One begins with wondering what would happen if they were not around anymore or if anyone would notice if they were gone (suicidal ideation). Gradually, one might display a reckless behaviour and more frequent occurences in attempts to die by accident, for example (suicidal attempts).
Research has suggested that asking someone whom we suspect is contemplating suicide, “Are you thinking about ending your life?” does not invite nor encourage them to commit that act(5). In fact, that question may very well save a life as it invites the struggling individual to open up and talk about their pain.
We can make time and space to lend a listening ear to our friend or colleague as they verbalize their pain that most often is invisible to the people around them. Small gestures of attention, concern, and understanding may be the very actions that prevent someone from ending their lives too soon.
Many of us may be afraid to ask or engage in conversations about suicide as we fear that we do not have the answers or solutions to the problems our friends or family members face.
Those who are suffering and thinking that there is no point to continue living, often longing for understanding and compassion on their struggles. The stigma of mental illness and suicide creates a huge barrier for individuals to seek help.
For these suffering individuals, getting answers to their sufferings may not be possible, but it is lifesaving to know that there are people willing to walk with them as they learn to live with their suffering.
The International Association of Suicide Prevention (IASP) suggested three actions that we can all engage in as we each do our small part to save lives. We can reach in, encourage understanding, and share experiences in creating hope (for more information, please see: https://www.iasp.info/wspd2021/).
Let’s not be afraid to talk about suicide. Sharing experiences of overcoming despair and ways to cope with suicidal thoughts can be a beacon of hope for those who are suffering, and we can begin by talking about it with respect and compassion.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or suffering from mental health issues, please don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to:
- Befrienders Penang: 04-291 0100 / WhatsApp 011-5670 6261 (https://befpen.org)
- Talian Kasih: 15999 / WhatsApp 019-261 5999
- USM Counselling Unit: 04-653 3845; Facebook – Counselling services at USM Penang.
We invite readers to explore the resources cited/provided here for specific, guided ways on how to create hope through action. Remember, suicide is preventable.
Text: Dr. Chooi Weng Tink (School of Social Sciences, USM)/Editing: MPRC