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Suicide Prevention month: Let us take a moment to be aware and create awareness

American Psychological Association defines suicide as “the act of killing yourself, most often as a result of depression or other mental illness.” However, there indeed is an interplay of a lot of risk factors and forces behind an individual’s ideation towards committing suicide. Hence, it becomes important to be cautious and sensitive towards any sort of actions or behavior that we perceive as ‘calling out for help’.

“Why do people commit suicide?” is a question whose answer we can never accurately identify and validate. The reasons may seem ambiguous to others, but we need to remind ourselves that for the individual, reaching the peak of his vulnerability and struggling internally to make the choice, that ambiguity becomes something of great significance. 

Several theories in psychology studying about this major health concern, postulate that suicide occurs when a ‘predisposition’ is triggered by various life stressors causing an individual to inevitably reach a breaking point at which committing suicide becomes the only likely choice. Therefore, what we see in the foreground may not reflect what is happening in the background. Behind each suicide attempt and suicide, is individuals struggle with chronic distress, trauma, emotional instabilities, among themselves and others.   

2017 WHO report on ‘Preventing suicide: A resource for medial professionals’ states that suicide rates are estimated to rise by passing the “1 million mark in the next 15 years”. Thus, our effort to improve our knowledge about the various risk factors of suicidal tendencies and measures to prevent it should be our foremost priority. Let us take this opportunity to become aware and spread awareness about this global phenomenon, which is becoming a major health concern in every corner of the world. 

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center defines risk factors, protective factors and warning signs revolving around the act of attempting or committing suicide. 

Risk factors are “characteristics that make it more likely that an individual will consider, attempt or die by suicide.” The risk factors for suicide can vary between individuals, and the intensity of each triggering events can also differ. 

i. Previous suicide attempt(s) 

ii. A history of suicide in the family

iii. Substance misuse

iv. Mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder) 

v. Access to lethal means (e.g., keeping firearms in the home)

vi. Losses and other events (for example, the breakup of a relationship or a death, academic failures, legal difficulties, financial difficulties, bullying) 

vii. History of trauma or abuse

viii. Chronic physical illness, including chronic pain

ix. Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others

Warning signs indicate “an immediate risk of suicide”. 

i. Often talking or writing about death, dying or suicide

ii. Making comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless

iii. Expressions of having no reason for living; no sense of purpose in life; saying things like “It would be better if I wasn’t here” or “I want out”

iv. Increased alcohol and/or drug misuse

v. Withdrawal from friends, family and community

vi. Reckless behavior or more risky activities, seemingly without thinking

vii. Dramatic mood changes

viii. Talking about feeling trapped or being a burden to others

Protective factors are “characteristics that make it less likely that individuals will consider, attempt or die by suicide.”

i. Contacts with providers 

ii. Effective mental health care; easy access to a variety of clinical interventions

iii. Strong connections to individuals, family, community and social institutions

iv. Problem – solving and conflict resolution skills

It only takes one step and one conversation to help someone change their life. Your one gesture can mean so much in making a difference. Ask someone, keep them safe, be there with them and for them, help them connect and stay connected. 

The author Swasti Karmacharya is a student counselor at United Academy