While it is important to address suicide prevention, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month provides a dedicated time to come together with collective passion and strength around a difficult subject. The truth is, we can all benefit from honest conversations about mental health conditions and suicide because I believe conversations can change a life. We have had an increased in suicide deaths around us since today’s social structure shows an alarming increase in family dysfunctions, personal distress, maladjustments, and various mental health challenges, all of which can lead to suicide.
Did you know that in every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide? Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged between 10 and 34. And sadly, it is the fourth leading cause of death for people between 35 and 54 years. While half of individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition, research shows that 90 per cent experienced symptoms and those around them, never noticed or listened to these people.
Suicidal thoughts, just like mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. In fact, suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition. Suicidal thoughts, although common, should not be considered normal and often indicate more serious issues. Many of us have had a family member, friends or colleagues, who have experienced suicidal thoughts, attempted or even taken their own lives. And every time, it is tragic! Every year, thousands of individuals die by suicide, leaving behind their friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of loss. In many cases, friends and families affected by a suicide loss (often called “suicide loss survivors”) are left in the dark. Too often, the feelings of shame and stigma, prevent them from talking openly.
Loneliness can lead to mental health problems and it helps to be attentive to pick up these cues at onset. Many mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety and addictions thrive on loneliness, and it is a vicious cycle. Human closeness is very important for our well-being and the lack of it can make things worse for someone with mental health concerns. This lack of emotional support can cause mental health concerns to aggravate, which in turn makes it harder to speak to and share your feelings.
Anyone dealing with a mental health concern will tell you how difficult it is to open-up and be able to talk to someone about it. Apart from the fear of being judged by friends, family or co-workers, and the overall social stigma around mental health in Uganda and the globe, people often hesitate to talk about it simply because they feel that no one will listen or that no one cares. When it comes to mental health, listening is helping. Learning to really listen to what people say can help you identify signs of onset of mental health concerns. It can also make a difference to how someone feels. Being active listeners who are sensitive to the mental health needs of our friends, colleagues and loved ones is an important step towards creating mind-positive communities. In the long-run, we will be able to stamp out the stigma and loneliness that is experienced by those with mental health concerns.
If your friend or family member struggles with suicidal ideation, let them know that they can talk with you about what they are going through. Make sure you adopt an open and compassionate mindset when they are talking. To anyone feeling suicidal, I believe that suicide is not the answer. I know that tomorrow is the place where hope lives.
Ms Rebecca Cherop is mental health activist.