Stigma : A Barrier to Suicide Prevention

Whenever I read or hear about a suicide, two immediate thoughts flash in my mind:

  • The person must be so sad and unhappy from life and its circumstances that ending his/her life is the only solution or escape in front of him/her.
  • The loss of a loved one to a suicide would be so devastating for the family and friends. Thoughts that they could have prevented it, can be a living nightmare, a life ridden with guilt and fighting every day inner turmoil.

While there would be many who would kill themselves on an impulse but most would be thinking and mulling over it for a long time. 

Often, but not always, a person may show certain symptoms or behaviors before a suicide attempt, including:

  • Having trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Giving away belongings
  • Talking about going away or the need to “get my affairs in order”
  • Suddenly changing behavior, especially calmness after a period of anxiety
  • Losing interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Performing self-destructive behaviors, such as heavily drinking alcohol, using illegal drugs, or cutting their body
  • Pulling away from friends or not wanting to go out
  • Suddenly having trouble in school or work
  • Talking about death or suicide, or even saying that they want to hurt themselves
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or guilty
  • Changing sleep or eating habits
  • Arranging ways to take their own life (such as buying a gun or many pills)

These are the warning signs which are hard to miss but are generally ignored. Why?

They say that suicide and suicidal behaviors usually occur in people with one or more of the following:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Depression
  • Drug or alcohol dependence
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stressful life issues, such as serious financial or relationship problems

Just as a blockage in artery can lead to a heart disease or an overgrowth of cells can cause a tumour or breakdown of the stomach lining can cause acidity or ulcer, similarly an imbalance in brain or its chemicals could lead to mental illnesses. While we waste no time to see a medical practitioner for any body ailment why do we hesitate to seek medical help when we suffer from psychological pain?

Is it that we attach stigma to mental illnesses? Why do we have negative attitudes about individuals with mental illnesses and/or suicidal ideation or impulses? Attaching stigma to mental illness prevent people from seeking treatment, which in turn exposes them to a greater risk of suicide. Also suicide can appear to be the best solution for a stigmatised individual.

A significant number of those with mental illnesses who commit suicide do not seek medical or professional health.

Many people believe that if a person is going to kill themselves, there’s nothing one can do. If you try to stop them, they’ll just bide their time and do it later. However, data shows that suicidal intention is transient. If one can get support and medical assistance to get through the trying times, we can help prevent an untimely death and help  someone to smile and live life once again.

But, unless this stigma towards mental illnesses is confronted and challenged, it will continue to be a major barrier to the treatment of mental illnesses and to the prevention of suicide.

World Suicide Prevention Day is an ideal time to inspire people to work towards the goal of developing creative new methods for eradicating stigma. And the first step towards is by creating awareness… let’s spread the word and do our bit in saving lives around us.

We are blogging for this cause at Write TribeDo read and spread the awareness about this initiative.