Break the Silence: Save a Life

By Rida Tahir

“I tried to kill myself twice in my early 20’s when I was stuck in an abusive marriage. I didn’t want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop. I hated my life but I wanted to live.”

Did you know that one person dies from suicide every 40 seconds?

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year olds and affects everyone regardless of age, gender, race, nationality, religion and socioeconomic status. It is a serious global public health concern that affects millions of people around the world and every year, over 800,000 people commit suicide globally. Shocking, isn’t it?

Sadly, suicide is also the elephant in the room for most people. It's no secret that there's a serious stigma associated with suicide and mental health in general and people are either not prepared to talk about it or don’t want to because it’s sad and depressing. Because of this silence and stigma, most people with suicidal thoughts are not willing to seek help or see a psychiatrist or psychologist, which only makes things worse. It’s not like cough or common cold that will go away on its own. These people need help. But many people who do approach a friend or family member and share their feelings are not taken seriously or are mocked.

Risk Factors Associated With Suicide

You may wonder why would a person take such a drastic step and take their life. The reason why someone commits or tries to commit suicide varies across situations and cannot always be explained. Suicide is a very complex issue and there are many biological, social and psychological risk factors that may lead to suicide. For example, mental health problems, relationship breakdown, loss of job / unemployment, abuse, violence, trauma, chronic pain, chronic illness, disaster, drug abuse or alcohol abuse, bullying, previous suicide attempts, history of self-harm, family history of suicide, loneliness or living alone, being unmarried, lack of social support, etc. Also, men are more likely to die by suicide, than women.

Suicidal People Are Not Cowards or Weak

Contrary to the popular belief that those who commit or attempt suicide are cowards, weak or unable to deal with life, it takes a whole lot of courage to try to hurt yourself. They are not cowards or weak; it’s just that their souls are suffering and they just want the suffering to end.

I know because I’ve been there. I tried to kill myself twice in my early 20’s, but lived to tell the tale. I was stuck in an abusive marriage. A marriage that was doomed to end the day it started. I was fine physically. No physical signs of abuse because I was never hit. No blood or bruises or broken bones. But the pain was so real that all I could do was cry in silence. With my face buried under a pillow, crying myself to sleep every night had become a daily ritual for me.

My life seemed so pointless, meaningless, like some kind of a cosmic joke that God was playing with me. I was so angry with God. With life. With myself. With everyone. And everything. What did I ever do to deserve it, I kept wondering. There was guilt. For doing the things I did. And regret. For the things I didn’t. A feeling of helplessness. I was not in control of what was happening to me. No matter what I did, I could not change my circumstances. I was stuck in a marriage which had no future. And things were only going to get worse. I knew I was depressed. And that I needed help. I remember telling my ex-husband, crying inconsolably, that I wanted to see a psychiatrist because I thought I was going mad. He laughed and shrugged it off.

Even though I was already dead inside, I didn’t want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop. There was nothing in my life worth living for but I wanted to live. Isn’t it unfair that there are pain killers that you can take to stop the physical pain but there’s no medication to stop the psychological pain when your soul is hurt and suffering? Attempt of suicide, at least for me, was just a kind of pain killer to stop the pain and endless suffering of my soul.

But I was lucky to have pulled myself out of the whole situation before I tried to take my life again and succeeded. Mustering up all the courage I could, I walked right out of the marriage, and said no to abuse and to suicide, and yes to life and hope.

Not all people are lucky. Many succeed in taking their lives after making multiple attempts because they are neither able to do anything about their situation, nor able to seek help due to the stigma surrounding mental health.

This is where you can play a role. Suicide is 100% preventable and you can help. By knowing and recognising the warning signs, starting the conversation, offering your support and getting help, you can save a life.

What To Do:

1. First of all, know the signs. While a suicidal person may not be visibly sad or depressed, many suicidal people do show some signs that they are thinking about ending their life. Recognising these signs and taking quick action can save a life. You may notice these signs during conversations, or through their behaviour, or even in social media posts.

· Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself

· Searching suicide methods online

· Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

· Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain

· Talking about being a burden to others

· Increased use of alcohol or drugs

· Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly

· Sleeping too little or too much

· Withdrawn or isolated from friends and family

· Showing aggression, rage or talking about seeking revenge

· Abrupt changes in diet and weight

· Displaying extreme mood swings

· Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

· Giving away their possessions

· Fatigue and lethargy

2. If you notice one or more of these signs in someone around you, especially after a traumatic event (such as death of a loved one, break up, divorce, sudden loss of job, etc.), take the signs seriously.

3. Instead of waiting for them to open up to you, be proactive and start the conversation. But before starting the conversation, be prepared and have a list of emergency numbers or helplines ready.

4. Ask them what is troubling them. Do not just casually ask and forget about it, but ask with the intent to help them overcome their reluctance to talk about it.

5. If they do not directly tell you about their plans of suicide, be direct and ask them questions like “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”. If they answer yes, do NOT leave them alone and get help immediately.

6. If they answer no, or want to talk about what is troubling them, pay attention and listen to them. Sometimes all a person needs is an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.

7. Remain calm and composed. Even if you are panicking or have no idea what to do next, do not show.

8. Acknowledge and validate what they are saying. Do not dismiss or disregard their feelings and thoughts. It is not easy for anyone to open up to others about their suicidal thoughts, so if you dismiss their thoughts or feelings, they might back off and never talk about it to you or anyone else.

9. Show your support. Let them know you understand and care about them, that you will always be there for them.

10. Tell them help is available. Give them the list of emergency numbers.

11. Tell them you can help them. Offer to accompany them to a psychiatrist or psychologist or a mental health counsellor. If you think you are not the best person for this kind of help, involve a family member or relative of this person.

12. Get professional help even if they have no apparent plans of suicide. Here are some numbers where you can call for help:

· Samaritans: 116 123

· CALM: 0800 58 58 58

· Papyrus (for those under 35): 0800 068 41 41

· Child-line (for children and young people under 19): 0800 1111

· The Silver Line (for the elderly): 0800 4 70 80 90

What NOT to do:

1. Do not take the talk or threats of suicide lightly and get help.

2. Do not think that by initiating the conversation about suicide, you will feed or plant the idea of suicide in their minds.

3. Do not challenge them by saying something like “Okay fine, go ahead and kill yourself, see if I care”.

4. Do not mock them by saying something like, “You can’t even kill a fly and you’re talking about killing yourself?”, “You are such a coward. You do not have the courage to pull the trigger”. “You are such a coward. Only cowards try to run away from their problems by ending their life, instead of facing it head on”.

5. Do not try to cheer them up or tell them to get over it.

6. Do not assume things will be alright without help.

7. Do not promise to keep their suicide plans a secret, even if you are emotionally blackmailed by them. If you end up making a promise, know that this is one of the promises you can and totally should break.

8. Do not leave them alone thinking that they are not serious or don’t have the courage to actually carry through their plans. Get professional help immediately.

Call To Action:

Now that you have read this article, take one step further and start sharing articles or videos related to suicide prevention and awareness on social media to make other people think and start a discussion. A good strategy is to share in bits and pieces, for example, first post some statistics about suicide, next post about the warning signs and then post about actions people can take. That way it will be easier for people to read and remember the content.

Remember, if you remain silent and keep waiting until you are personally affected by suicide of a loved one, then you are part of the problem. Speak up, end the stigma and be a part of the solution.