September 10 marked the World Suicide Prevention Day. As someone running a website on mental health awareness, one would think I had something to say about it, but I had nothing new to add. There was all the talk about getting help, hotlines, anti-depressants, torn families, the stigma, and of course, the alarmingly increasing suicide rates – globally, and most notably in India.
Let me begin by saying that I wholeheartedly support the cause for preventing suicide, and understand the need to reduce the stigma around it, and make help more readily available. But as I continued to read these articles, and as I saw them scream the same message over and over again – Suicide is Preventable – I realized something.
Suicide is not preventable. Depression is.
It is at least manageable. To say that suicide is preventable is only the penultimate chapter of the story, the last being one of second chances. Suicide prevention an emergency measure. It is akin to resuscitation. And while no fool will disagree with the importance of this act, one must stop and think – is that it? Should we wait for the ultimate cry for help and try and rush to ensure that they fail at finally taking control of their lives?
No. Obviously. Especially when the question is put that way. Of course we shouldn’t wait. But then when and how are we to know what else to do – and when?
The answer lies in rethinking what it means to commit suicide.
I recommend approaching suicide with a little more understanding. It’s not just “killing yourself”.
It’s a more poetic act, of wilfully taking your life. It’s the only way you know that will successfully lead you away from your misery. It’s the only way to ensure that your story stops where you want it to, and your life doesn’t just keep spinning out of your control.
No one wakes up one day wanting to commit suicide. They have all previously thought of it. They have thought of how – how they’ll do it, how others will be affected, how it’s the only way out. The one day that it happens, is simply the culmination of a deep sadness, a lot of frustration, and a certain knowledge that life as they know it must not go on any further in this way, and since there is no other way, it must end.
Suicide can also be impulsive, but that is still because it is somehow an option available to them. As I write I’m reminded of the recent news of this young girl whose school called home to complain to the parents about her romantic relations at school. She was suspended for half a day, came home, had a fight with her mother, and jumped off their balcony. She was in the ninth standard, and somehow knew that there was no way her life was going to change from this point on. It was over.
My question is – if we know this, why is suicide prevention the only time we talk about suicide?
How about – prevention of suicidal thoughts day? How about – let’s support those who are depressed day? How about – let’s ask the person sitting next to us how you’re doing day? These I feel will far more effective in actually preventing suicide, than actually preventing the act of suicide.
So to answer the question of when to begin with real suicide prevention, the answer is right at the first signs of despair. In fact, begin with the prevention of despair.
People thinking of committing suicide often talk about it, think about it, mention it in passing, talk about death a little more often than one finds comfortable. They’ll threaten family, cry to friends. It’s often ignored as temporary, laughed at as PMS, scolded as drama, and of course, shamed as attention seeking behavior. But it is attention seeking – and we need to pay attention!
Organizations globally do work to create awareness about getting to the point of suicide. It is the people at large who don’t understand what it means to commit suicide. As I said, it’s not just putting a gun to your head. It’s so much more – it’s an act of defiance against suppression, it’s an act of the final escape, it’s an act of controlling one’s destiny for once, it’s an act of saving oneself from further misery, and sometimes, it’s a final scream for help, bordering on punishing those who caused it.
The fragility of the human mind has never been in question. This makes everyone, absolutely everyone, a candidate for suicidal behavior. I too have seriously contemplated suicide at the age of 10, I think, and then chickened out.
It is those who are threatened, depressed or mentally unsettled over a prolonged period of time that are most vulnerable.
Listen to them. Notice their sadness. It might be enough to encourage them to get help. They need to know that their life matters, that people care for them. We need to help them find a reason to live on. Otherwise, why prevent suicide?
Featured Image from Gratisography.com