We have all thought of dying. Our mortality is so glaring that sometimes you find yourself wondering as a passing thought “how will I die?” “or “when will I die?” or “what will it be that finally kills me?“. A percentage of people have to live with these thoughts daily. Statistics show that there are up to 800,000 suicides every year. People who are suicidal are depressed and anxious and struggle with low self-worth, and it seems to them like they are a burden. People who struggle with suicidal thoughts and carry through on them do not want to die, contrary to what we think especially in this part of the world.
They just want to stop feeling all the hurt and pain and disgrace they feel, and death seems like the only way out.
It does not help that social media and television (this tv show is causing a lot of controversy) has almost glamourised suicide, with the darker parts of the internet rife with accounts and campaigns that glorify suicide. One glaring example is the Blue Whale Challenge which went viral in 2015 after a Russian teenager Rina Palenkova posted a series of activities carried out up until she jumped in front of a train, ending her life. Her death and the name attached to it quickly gained media attention and caused a rash of suicides in Russia, a trend which spread through the internet. For someone who already battles suicidal thoughts daily, hearing and seeing someone else follow through on it might just be the push they need.
It also does not help that our society is so ignorant about mental illness. Oftentimes when someone commits suicide we hear comments like “they took the coward’s way out” and “they are selfish”. What we don’t know is that these are people who have battled and struggled with their feelings of shame and inadequacy for so long that they finally succumbed to the darkness within them.
IDENTIFYING SOMEONE CONTEMPLATING SUICIDE
Most times we have a feeling about the people we love. More often than not, trust those instincts. Especially if you have noticed some of the following:
HELPING THEM THROUGH THE DARKNESS
You might be perceptive enough to sense that a friend or family member is depressed and/or suicidal (for more information check out Dr. Wande’s interview ), but you are at a loss on what to do.
First of all, you need backup. This means enlisting the help of professionals like a doctor, a counselor in school, or mental health organisations like MANI. You will need to refer them to further help after you have spoken to them.
The next thing to do is to actually talk to them. People are so touchy around the subject of suicide that they think ignoring the problem will make it go away. It won’t. Talking about it does not make it worse. In case you are biased or feel uncomfortable around the subject, you might not be the best person to talk to them about it. That is why you needed backup in the first place. In that case, your job becomes getting them to someone they can trust to talk to.
Asking someone “are you having thoughts of suicide?” does not automatically plant the idea in their head. Instead, it gives them an avenue to talk about the weight they have been carrying, which might be exactly what they needed. Ask them if anything happened to cause them to feel that way, when they started feeling low, and what you can do to help. Be supportive but not stifling.
When they have opened up to you, what you say matters. Don’t lecture them or scold them. Don’t blame yourself, or try to fix it. And don’t, on any account, promise to keep that knowledge to yourself. You have to tell them that you are going to tell a professional, someone more equipped to help them, and you cannot do that of it is a secret.
What you need to do is be yourself, and don’t be judgmental. Be calm, they do not need to deal with your own feelings while they struggle with theirs. You need to be a safe place, offering them hope that things will always get better and that what they are feeling is temporary. You need to reaffirm to them that they matter, to you and to the world.
The next thing you have to do, after they have opened up to you, is to ascertain the immediate risk of suicide. You need to ask them if they intend to commit suicide, whether they have made a plan for suicide, what they planned to do, where and how they planned to execute it. Most times, they have not thought that far, but if they have, it is a red alert for immediate risk of suicide. This is the time to take them to an emergency room urgently or make them call a suicide helpline, and remove all potential sources of suicide like knives and unsupervised medication.
After they have started getting the help they need, don’t detach from them. Follow up on their medication, sleeping and eating habits, take them on walks and getaways in nature, talk to them regularly, and just be there for them. Take time to show them the positives in their lives. Help them make a recovery plan for whenever they feel pressured to take the permanent way out, a plan that includes calling you and their doctors and therapists.
While you do this, be careful that you don’t get so absorbed in their lives that you neglect to live yours.. You too need to live positively and be healthy so that you can provide the best support for them in the future.
There is always hope. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!
(Self-harm or suicide is not the answer. If you have suicidal thoughts or know someone that does and need to talk to someone, call Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) on +2348060101157. Help is only a call or text away. Stay strong.)