The numbers in the statistics serve to conceal the fact that suicide is a single, solitary act. On average, each day more than 100 Americans take their own lives. That works out to one person every 14-minutes. Globally, the World Health Organization conservatively estimates more than 800,000 suicides happen yearly around the World.
All of these figures are conservative because of the taboo and stigma associated with killing oneself. The numbers are also less reliable because of religious and legal sanctions against suicide in many regions of the World. Tragically, the religious and legal aspects make it much more difficult for individuals to reach out to obtain help.
In addition, despite efforts to destigmatize mental illness, society, at large, continues to look down on people who are suffering through mental dysfunctions. This taboo complicates the already difficult decision by sufferers to reach out to family members and health workers for assistance.
One excellent preventative is for us to reach out gracefully, and non-judgmentally to a friend or family member who seems to be going through psychological pain. Just showing simple concern to someone who is vulnerable to suicide can make a big difference. Usually, all one needs to do is ask whether the person is OK. When she opens up, just listening, in a non-judgmental way without giving advice, shows that you care.
The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) sponsor World Suicide Prevention Day each year on September 10th. The 2015 theme for the event is “Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives”. The IASP and WHO point out that isolation increases the risk of suicide. Having good social connections is protective against self harm. The organizations remind us that “being there” for somebody who has become disconnected can be life-saving.
Just starting the conversation can be awkward and difficult. One needs to show an open attitude towards listening. Someone who seems unhappy needs to know that they have full permission to talk about their issues, on their own terms, in their own time span. Just being present and willing to hear them out is often cathartic for the sufferer. Being heard gives a glimmer of hope to the individual.
Because suicide risk is so serious, the support of family and friends might not be enough. Sometimes, formal support is necessary. Primary care providers and mental health services offer a range of solutions. They might suggest a period of clinical care or non-clinical support. Depending on the country, sufferers can rely on community based organizations. Many regions have the luxury of support groups and self-help groups. For the LGBT community, there are Internet resources like the “It Gets Better Project” at http://www.itgetsbetter.org/ . A clearing house for suicide prevention for the general population in North America is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ .
On this World Suicide Prevention Day, we can all become more aware of suicide prevention efforts by organizations and individuals. If there is an activity or event in your area, you may wish to take part in it. This is also a good day to check in on someone you might be concerned about.