Every suicide is a tragedy. Have you ever noticed that a deeper part of you is touched when you hear that someone has died by suicide?

The World Health Organisation reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Approximately, 800,000 people die by suicide each year; one person every 40 seconds, and for each death there are many more attempts. Even so, every life lost to suicide is still one too many.

When an individual has suicidal thoughts, they often feel trapped, with no options for escape. They tend to feel worthless, helpless and hopeless. They may have a mood disorder, such as anxiety and/or depression, and they tend to feel like a burden to others. They feel unable to talk about these thoughts and feelings and struggle to ask for help. Given this, it is of paramount importance that others start the conversation about suicide.

Suicides are preventable. You may ask who plays a role in suicide prevention. The answer is everyone. Everyone has a role in suicide prevention. Even so, suicide is a sensitive issue that is still highly stigmatised in Trinidad and Tobago. The stigma and taboo surrounding suicide continue to persist in our schools, workplaces and communities. As a result, people are reluctant to talk. This needs to change. Silence and stigma are unhelpful, and perhaps even harmful, as it prevents individuals from seeking the help that they need. A major hindering factor in attitudes towards help-seeking for suicide ideation is stigmatisation. Hence, the following are suggestions for anyone who may be concerned that a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts.

A key aspect of overcoming stigma is to start the conversation about suicide. If you are concerned that someone you know is considering suicide, the most important thing you can do is ask them. There is a fear that asking someone if they are suicidal will increase the likelihood that they will develop suicidal thoughts. However, research consistently contradicts this. In fact, asking about and acknowledging suicide reduces distress.

Very often, a person who feels suicidal may not openly say that they are. Instead, they may use negative statements such as, “I don’t see the point in being here”, “Everyone would be okay without me”. Therefore, asking directly helps start the conversation.

Ask: Ask clearly and directly. Ask the question, “Are you having thoughts about taking your own life?’ or “are you thinking about suicide?’ Using the word suicide creates space to address feelings and signifies that it is OK to openly express their thoughts with you.

Listen: Openly listening, with care and without judgment, to someone’s thoughts of suicide can be a source of relief and can possibly prevent a suicide attempt. Being listened to conveys the idea that someone cares and is paying attention to them, and that they are worthy enough to be heard. Listening sends an important message, that is, “I am worth listening to”; and this is golden for the person who feels unworthy. Simply listening can bring immense relief to someone, especially if they have never spoken about their suicidal thoughts before.

Support: Be supportive and understand that suicide is complex and multifaceted; there is no one main reason why someone will choose to take their own life. Show you care and ask how you can help. Remember, support can mean different things, so try to understand what support means for them. A good support system is shown to be a protective factor against suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

Encourage help-seeking: Reassure the person that help is available and ensure that they know where to seek such help, to keep them safe. Assist in finding information on where support can be found. Remember, seeking professional help can feel scary, so it may be helpful to accompany the person for their first therapy session. Also, ensure that the mental health professional is adequately trained and experienced in meeting their psychological needs. Do not be hesitant to enquire about their credentials and qualifications. An open and honest therapist will be willing to share this.

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Self-care: Looking after yourself is important when caring for those with mental health concerns. Knowing that someone is considering suicide may feel scary. This is a normal response. Seek friends and family members that you can talk to about your feelings and remember to take time to meet your physical, emotional and psychological needs.

At the International Association of Suicide Prevention 2019 Conference, it was stated that ‘People commit crimes, but people die by suicide.’ Hence, suicide is not a crime and the use of the term commit continues to increase stigma and discourage people from seeking help. Hence, when starting the conversation about suicide it is imperative that we use sensitive and empathic language that reduces unhelpful connotations.

In light of World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10), I urge us as a nation to be more mindful, empathetic and understanding. To understand that persons with suicidal thoughts are experiencing unbearable psychological pain and suffering, and see suicide as their only option to escape this pain. Seeing that stigma hinders help-seeking, encouraging and engaging in conversations about suicide can help to reduce this stigma and increase the likelihood of persons seeking help.

If you are worried that someone is struggling with thoughts of suicide — I encourage you to start the conversation.

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