Suicide is a very real problem in today’s society, no matter where you live in the world, we are seeing increased suicide attempts and completions; rising each year. It is seen that men are most vulnerable, finding it difficult to open up and ask for help. This should concern society that something is wrong in our structure and the available services. As mental health is still deemed very much a taboo subject, these individuals are finding it hard to reach out and get help. They are too ashamed to come forward and so try and cope on their own. This is not healthy or enough, and can lead to their death
Suicide is a very permanent decision for a potentially temporary issue. But the question we always ask is ‘Why did the person commit suicide?’, ”I feel guilty as I never spotted the signs!”
Society today is very fast paced and changes rapidly, something which is here one day is not the next. We live in a social media age where people constantly have their heads down looking at a 5x5inch screen, posting their daily lives for others to view and judge them on. Some people are able to cope and navigate their way through this era. Others however struggle, miss face-to-face human interaction, and are unable to keep up with the ever changing environment and world around them. If we take the time to look and observe the world around us, we might see people in pain, anguish, appearing somber and a lot of negativity.
Pause. Take a moment to stop, look up and observe the people around you. Whom are you able to have a deep meaningful conversation with.
For many, they are able to think of one person whom they can have such a discussion with. But for a lot of people, they don’t have even one person they know they can turn to. This can be for several reasons such as lack of family and friends or even mistrust of others etc. These individuals will turn to society and attempt to find an individual to help them, but this is not always possible. There can be a lot of barriers in the way, it’s a lengthy process and the resources aren’t always easily accessible. Therefore we find the individual recluses and withdraws from society. These people are the most vulnerable in society, to have active suicidal ideations and attempts.
Since birth humans have innate instincts which help us survive such as fight or flight, breathing, blinking etc. One such mechanism we have is the need to be supported and cared for. As humans we rely on interactions and the emotional fulfilment these interactions give us. We crave emotional relationships, the feeling of belonging and being cared for, a safety net. If this need is not met, we have to adapt and seek alternative methods to help survive. Here we may see the individual engage in self destructive behaviours such as; alcohol and drug abuse, self neglect, cutting and taking overdoses etc. The individual is able to recognise the destructive nature of the behaviours but can’t find any other alternative, to help with the pain and fill a void. All the behaviours have something in common, they all; numb the pain, mask the feelings and block thoughts. Therefore the individual is able to survive another day in the world, after using such self destructive mechanisms. But for how long??
We see in social media, high-profile celebrity suicides are published. This makes me feel a range of emotion from anger to gratfulness. In reading comments, people state; ‘ how can they commit suicide when their life is perfect, what do they have to be sad about, how could they do that to their family?’ These statements highlight the lack of understanding, empathy and willingness to find a solution. If we assume the person has access to all available resources, shouldn’t we consider; ‘ how did this person get to the stage where they felt so lonely the only solution was suicide?’ People often refer to suicides as selfish acts, where the person hasn’t considered the consequence and feelings of others after their suicide. But this is far from the truth!
Suicide is a private decision, which is often made by individuals whom fear they have no other choice. It is often seen the individual will not voice their suicidal ideations and will attempt to blend into society and wear a mask to cover up. Every second around the world, a person will have committed suicide. They may have felt trapped, lonely, scared and no motivation. We have to look deeper into ourselves in order to help others. The individual may be suffering from a mental health condition, trauma, PTSD, grief etc.. There is never just one reason that we can definitely say is the cause. Humans are complex beings whom are multi-faceted, therefore we cannot isolate one thought, behaviour or feeling at one time.
Recently, it has been highlighted that men are at a higher risk of committing suicide, as they are to ashamed to open up and state they can no longer cope and need help. This goes back to males seen as masculine, tough and strong and able to cope with anything, with little support. However, this perception which is embedded into society, causes a lot of stress and pressure, for men today. Asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness, which is only acceptable for women to do. In today’s society we see that this perception is changing, but the notion still remains embedded into society.
This highlights the issue of the cultural impact on mental health. We perceive to live in a very modern society, more liberal, open and accepting than any culture in the past. But we find the deep roots of the past are still very much alive in todays society. In every culture there still seems to be a taboo around mental health and strong opinions around suicide. Here we find, culture and religious ideations about suicide, clash, leading to people being very conflicted about their thoughts and behaviours.
The very notion of suicide is scary and it’s very sporadic, in nature. The after effects of suicide are immense. The family of the individual suffer greatly, they may blame themselves, feel guilty and often feel helplessness. The grief comes in stages such as anger, sadness and resentment etc.
When they are in the anger and resentment stage, they blame the individual for being selfish, not confiding in them and not thinking about the family. This is never the case, the individual would’ve thought a lot about their family and friends. Often they may have attempted to tell someone, but find no voice to speak! We have to understand, suicide is often the option the individual feels they only have.
The next stage is sadness. The more details they learn and gain understanding into suicide, the family and friends feel upset and overwhelmed. At this stage they begin to blame themselves, as they never noticed something was wrong. Here the family and friends are reassured, but the feelings of helplessness can begin.
Often we find after someone commits suicide, a family member or friend may suffer from depression or anxiety. This is generally because they get overwhelmed in emotions surrounding the death. In addition, another suicide may occur, the feelings of guilt and helplessness take over. For anyone whom has lost someone, the feeling of emptiness can occur and it’s hard to find closure.
Many people can become inpatients in a psychiatric hospital, due to their presentation and actions, e.g.. unable to keep themselves safe in the community. They can be admitted informally (voluntary) or under a section of the Mental Health Act. Patients often find being on a section very distressing, as it often means they have to remain in hospital for a certain period of time and given treatment against their will, if necessary. Some patients can deteriorate when put on a section, as the feeling of independence is taken away,, therefore their anxiety can increase. This can lead to increase of self harming behaviours such as lacerations to body or ligatures etc.
It is still unknown how many suicides occur yearly within psychiatric hospitals. The suicides may be accidental or planned. Patients quickly become aware, that attempting suicide on the ward is challenging, as they are constantly observed. So the patient may change tactic and act settled and happy, then they attempt suicide, these are the more risky patients. Also patients may try to self harm to gain attention from staff, as they find it difficult to ask for help, or they don’t know how to cope, but misjudge the support of staff and can lead to death or serious injury.
Most individuals just want attention and someone to speak to, often people confuse someone getting frustrated, with mental illness. This is the misjudgment which occurs when we misinterpret the behaviour of someone when they call for help. Individuals may act aggressively or rude when they feel they aren’t receiving the help they require. This may be the only emotional response they know to gain another person’s attention. Here its important not to ignore the individual but to sit and listen to their concerns. In doing so, further aggressive outbursts etc., maybe avoided. In addition, potential self harming of oneself may also be avoided, as you have given your time to listen and care, when they need it. It’s important to note, all they want is someone to listen to them, and if this does not occur, we may be potentially reaffirming their own beliefs that no one cares for them. This can lead to increased suicidal ideations and withdrawal from society/people.
Often the approach which should be implemented, is to reassure the individual you are their for them, willing to listen and you are available anytime. Giving someone time is more valuable than anything else. We find many individuals may come from backgrounds or upbringing whereby no one listened or they had no support system. Therefore you might be the first and only support system they have encountered. They may not know how to act or approach someone or even have difficulty communicating their feelings. Here the listener shoud make allowances and understand it’s not easy to open up and talk and especially ask for help when you’ve received none before. Also offer ways to which they can communicate other than verbally, such as written down in a personal diary or poem, or even doing art and expressing it via drawing.
In life being open and relaxed towards others can have more positive outcomes than appearing hostile and judgmental. Whereas this may be an obvious statement, not everyone understand this when crying for another person.
For example if an individual is acting aggressive, verbally abusive and intimidating than you shouldn’t mirror this behaviour. Humans naturally get into a fight and flight stance and may act defensively. They may shout back at the individual or even ignore them. For me in this situation, I talk calmly back to them even if they continue to shout throughout the interaction. In addition, I display body language, which isn’t defensive or intimidating such as give them space and don’t stand in a ‘fight stance’ ( defensively). I find as time goes on if I remain calm in my approach the other individual naturally becomes less aggressive and intimidating. They begin to realise this person is willing to listen and compromise with them.
This is similar to when an individual crying out for help (self harming) but when you offer support they refuse it. Here stay with the person reassuring them, that you’re here when they require support and you care about them enough not to leave when they are distressed. Often this approach works as the individual will realise you are staying to support them and don’t just walk away, so they slowly open up to you and let you in.
Humans tend to ‘test’ others to see how others react, if they care etc. These are ‘tests’ we do to gage another persons interest and level of support they will give us. This is important to help protect ourselves from harm and being let down.
People misjudge individuals and quickly assume they have mental health concerns, when it’s just a human going through emotions. We have to be empathetic to situations and understand the emotion with the situation. For example I worked in oncology and many patients spoke of suicide, feeling no happiness and only negative. This is understandable considering what they are going through. Therapy and support can be very helpful here. A holistic approach often works here as we identify the situation as aa whole, before we make a judgment. This step should be taken when someone decides to end their life. Don’t focus on the obvious events but look at the whole picture, the smaller details and here you will see the full extent to the individuals suffering.
I ensure that in my work life and personal life I make people around me comfortable and express that I am always here to listen and support no matter the problem. I find that by leading with an emphatic and supportive foot, you open up the dialogue and anyone struggling will seek your support.