Ignicious Murambidzi Correspondent
Today, Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating the World Mental Health Day celebrated on October 10 each year.
This year’s theme, “Mental health promotion and suicide prevention” speaks to the urgent call to reduce the increasing trend of suicidal behaviours across the world.
According to the WHO, more than 800 000 people die by suicide every year which translates to one suicide every 40 seconds.
Nearly 80 percent of the suicides occur in low and middle income countries.
Young people aged between 15 and 29 years are most affected by suicide, which is the third leading cause of death, accounting for nearly a third of all suicides globally.
Though it may look like an untamed and mysterious human scourge, suicide results from preventable and treatable psychosocial conditions.
Combating discriminatory attitudes, beliefs and practices is the bedrock of community suicide prevention.
In Zimbabwe, a myriad of socio-cultural barriers shut up and prevent people experiencing suicidal crisis from getting the care they deserve.
Viewed as a social taboo, many people shy to openly talk about suicide. This silence inadvertently engenders misconceptions, stigma and discrimination which make it difficult for the sufferer to open up and seek appropriate help.
In this regard, suicide prevention initiatives need to incorporate awareness and advocacy strategies aimed at changing prevalent discriminatory beliefs, attitudes and practices rooted in the following misconceptions.
Myth: People who take their own life are crazy and selfish.
Fact: Suicidal behaviours are not driven by insane and selfish motives. Most suicidal people suffer intense emotional pain, are upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing.
Myth: Once a person has decided to die by suicide, there is nothing that can be done to stop him/her.
Fact. Suicide can be prevented. Most people who are suicidal do not want to die; they are just overwhelmed by some intense pain. Given an alternative solution to the pain, they will not end their life.
Myth: People who talk about suicide are just being manipulative, they won’t end their life.
Fact: Any suicidal talk or behaviours should be taken seriously as most people who die by suicide often give some clue or warning. Even indirect references to death or suicide like, “You’ll be sorry when I’m gone,” may indicate serious suicidal feelings.
Myth: People who die by suicide do not seek help.
Fact: Many people who are suicidal reach out for help. They, however, face numerous barriers which hinder them from accessing appropriate help.
Myth: Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.
Fact: Asking people if they are thinking about suicide does not give them the idea for suicide. In fact, starting a conversation with a suicidal person is one of the most helpful ways to prevent suicide. The support person will learn more about the suicidal person’s mindset and intentions and the discussion may bring alternative view that will diffuse some of the tension that is causing the suicidal feelings.
How can you start a conversation with someone who is suicidal?
Initiating a conversation with a suicidal person provides the much-needed opportunity to express pent-up feelings and can provide relief from emotional pain driving the suicidal thoughts.
You don’t have to be technical to start a suicide crisis conservation. Begin with an open and clear statement of concern like: “I have been feeling concerned about you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately” or “I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.”
During the discourse it is important to:
Tell the suicidal person that you care and that you want to help them.
Express empathy for the person and what they are going through.
Tell the person that thoughts of suicide are common and do not have to be acted on.
Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary.
Get professional help. Encourage and help the suicidal person to get professional help. Call a crisis line for help and referrals.
Suicide prevention is everybody’s responsibility. Everyone can take part in whichever way to reduce the stigma associated with suicide.
Let’s join our efforts to raise awareness, and reach out to those in need of care.
Ignicious Murambidzi is an African Mental Health Research Initiative (AMARI) affiliate.