Did you know that the current rate of suicide is one every 40 seconds? Every 40 seconds, one person gives up on life. Every 40 seconds, one person figures the pain they feel is way beyond all the beauty of life. Every 40 seconds, one person decides tomorrow does not need them. Every 40 seconds, one person feels hopeless enough to take their life.
It doesn’t stop there. For every suicide death, there are 25 suicide attempts, which means every 40 seconds, there are actually 26 people who want to stop living.
Are they selfish? Are they cowardly? Are they ungrateful? Here is what some of the suicide attempt survivors tell us:
Why didn’t I reach out to anyone? Well, the truth is that I had. I quietly tried to share that I was struggling, but instead of help, I was told that I was selfish, being dramatic, and needed to pray.
– Kelechi Ubozoh, 32-year-old from Oakland, California
I couldn’t feel anything but hurt, like I was burning from the inside out. Ending it seemed like the only way to make the pain stop
– Dese’Rae L. Stage, 35-year-old from Philadelphia
It (the voice inside my head) told me I was a burden on the people I loved. That my sick, weak, broken self was infecting everyone else. Ruining their lives. It said nothing would ever get better. And it was so loud I couldn’t hear anything else.
– Kelley Clink, 38-year-old from Chicago
I had come to a point where I believed I held no capacity to find joy or meaning in life, so I attempted to kill myself.
– A.P. Looze, 28-year-old from Minnesota
If you read carefully, you will find a voice of helplessness and desperation in those quotes. Silently sobbing souls, hoping for a way out of their pain. Suicide is an ultimate cry of this pain, a pain we could not address, a pain we most often ignored or silenced. I do not ignore the small percent who despite being helped, could not be cured or their condition managed. But we can all admit to a larger proportion who are silently suffering fearing the stigma of a diagnosis, a label and subsequent rejection and ridicule.
Mental illnesses are real. Depression is painful. Anxiety is suffocation. The sufferers often see no hope ahead. It is at this point that suicide starts to seem like an option. Nobody wants to die; they merely want the pain to stop.
People suffering from a mental illness are not weak. They are often the strongest warriors. But during certain seasons, they are gripped by feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. Their hearts grow heavy and everything looks bleak. Their circumstances trouble their soul and their thoughts suffocate them. It feels like death is better than living in deep darkness and agony.
Now, how can we help?
- Educate ourselves. Our mind is super powerful and holds the key to everything from our attitudes to our will to live. Let us not downplay this weapon and educate ourselves on how mind works, what mental illness is and how real these are.
- Remove the stigma. We need to address the topic of mental health rather than ignore it. Talk about it and teach about good mental health habits. Open forums, support groups and counselling go a long way. There might not be a constant flow of people seeking help, but the offer of an open door itself is a ray of hope for those who are suffering.
- Be wise. It takes immense courage for a suicidal person to admit their feelings. When they do, try to pull them out of that dark hole before you dissect the person to identify the cause. There is also a catch in knowing that most of the sufferers do not have an extrinsic cause, which means unless you are a counselor or willing to spend hours in knowing the other person, it will be impossible to find a cause. Hence, know that first-aid isn’t identifying the cause, it is managing the symptoms.
- Be empathetic. Not one person, not even a fellow sufferer can entirely understand what the other person feels like. But we all can listen and show empathy. All that the person needs to know is that their feelings are real and it is not their fault that they are sick.
- Be available. This is a challenge considering that it might take a while for your encouragement to penetrate their dark clouds. So, you might feel like you are speaking into a vacuum for days. But there will be a point when the clouds part a little and all your upliftment will pull them up bit by bit. The point that we make by being available is that they are needed, wanted and worthy of our time. This goes a long way in keeping them from drowning.
- Be understanding. How is this different from empathy? Empathy is understanding or attempting to understand their pain. By understanding, you try to gently pull them out, but respecting their struggle. This merely means you do not drag them to a full house party but encourage them to do small things that they love.
- Uplift but do not condemn. We all tend to go into a full blown “be thankful” speech often. While this helps them to look outside rather than into their pain, the purpose should be just that. Be careful not to guilt them into feeling bad for not being able to enjoy their pleasures in the dark season.
- Instill hope. This is to be the main focus in helping someone undergoing anxiety, depression or suicidal ideation. Keep telling them there is hope out of this. Speak purpose into their life and highlight the happy times they have had till date. Tell them those will come again. There will be color in their life and the clouds will shift. They will be themselves again. This season will pass.
- Get them help. While gossiping about their pain is not the way to do this, encourage them to reach out to trustworthy people, who can help them. Get them professional help, if needed.
- Follow up. Mental illness does not appear with tangible, visible symptoms and is therefore difficult to track the course of illness. The lack of symptoms also discourage the person in seeking help in fear of being labelled as ‘an attention seeker’. Most people give up trying to seek help midway or tend to act ‘I am alright’ after a while, even when they are still suffering. It is important, therefore, to follow up with genuine concern. Ask them to be honest with you and ensure them that it is completely alright to have a long recovery period, lasting from days to years.
If you are struggling with a mental illness or suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help. You do not have to wait until it gets worse to seek help. You already need it.
- Talk about it. If you are in a space where you are not surrounded by people you trust or can open up to, at least write about it. Keep a journal, vent out. Keeping a journal in and out of the season also helps in identifying triggers for anxiety or depression attacks.
- Focus on today. When all is foggy, all you can see is today, this hour, this moment. Focus on the present. Focus on getting out of bed, surviving a work day, being alive at the end of the day, sleeping for 2 hours, dressing up; all these simple tasks seem like mountains to the sick. Congratulate yourself for getting through. You are doing great!
- Find joy. Find joy in your passion. It could be singing, dancing, painting, writing, anything. Do it, even if you are able to do so only in your room or only for a couple of minutes. These could be tiny straws to your drowning soul.
- Physical exercise. This sounds a bit like doctoral advice but physical exercise works! It tires the physical body, thereby pushing it to rest, during which time your anxious mind gets some well-deserved sleep.
- Take time to recover. A mental illness is equivalent to a physical one. You need a sick day? Call it in. Rest if you need to. Spend time with your passions. Go for a walk. Go to a doctor. Do whatever you need to, to pull yourself up and do not let anyone guilt you about taking a sick day for your mind.
- Stay away from negative emotions. It could be negative people who constantly look at all that is wrong in life. It could be sad movies, depressing videos or even social media wherein everyone appears to be happy and you just cannot feel an ounce of it. It can also be loneliness. If loneliness or being alone triggers you to a train of suicidal thoughts, please get out of your house and just walk around, where you are not alone. Also, ensure to stay away from places or circumstances that trigger off a suicidal action. Stay away from rooftops, driving, being alone in room or rail tracks for that matter. For a person who has been harboring suicidal thoughts, it would take just a moment to slip into a destructive action.
- Get help. It could be from a friend, a mentor or better still, a professional. It can also be support groups or helplines. If you are alone and suicidal, please get help immediately. It does not have to end this way. There is hope, I promise. Happy times will come again and the dark clouds will lift. You will look back someday and say “To think I wanted to end it all”. You will be glad you didn’t give up, I promise.