A call to create hope for the suicidal

AS long as we are alive, there is hope. This is a fundamental belief we can all hold on to. But sadly, some have lost their hold on this belief and have died by suicide – a point at which they reached the heights of emotional psychological pain, and the depths of their sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

Especially for World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) tomorrow, we need to stop and reflect on what we as individuals and as groups can do to create hope… and of course move to actually do it!

The International Association for Suicide Prevention has announced the theme for WSPD 2021-2023 – “Creating Hope Through Action” – as a reminder that there is an alternative to suicide and everyone can be that person who infuses hope to those at the brink of losing all hope.

Earlier this year police released statistics that showed a marked increase in suicides in the country. Since then many articles and talks focused on the numbers, which would matter mainly for research and policy decisions at governmental levels, or raise the public’s awareness about the issue. Otherwise, the numbers shouldn’t really matter – what matters is that there are always people in our immediate circle of family, friends and acquaintances that may be on the path to having suicidal thoughts and actually act to end their own lives. One death by suicide is one too many!

With this awareness that there are people around us who are possibly thinking of suicide or feeling suicidal, the question that arises among many Malaysians would probably be: so what can I do about it? What action can I take to create hope?

Even the thought of having to deal with suicide may be scary. But you don’t have to do everything yourself to prevent suicides. There is a lot of professional help available, waiting and wanting to support you and those who are suicidal.

A few things for everyone to note:

I create hope if I don’t say things like “oh don’t think like that”, or worse, say “stop being so negative”, “things will be better in time”, “you’re making it out to be much worse than it is” – where the suicidal person could feel shut down, not taken seriously. I could instead accept that they are feeling what they are feeling and empathise with them. Ask about what it is that makes them feel this way. Not to analyse, but to show them you are genuinely concerned and get them talking about the issue. Focus on their emotions but don’t try to fix the person or solve their problem. When a person finds emotional release, they can become more hopeful of dealing with their own problem.

I create hope if I resist the urge to forward gruesome stories, photos of deaths, and videos of the actual event of someone taking their life. But instead, share personal stories of an individual’s, or your own, experiences of significant emotional distress, suicidal thoughts or attempt, and how it was overcome by reaching out and getting the right help. The experiences of recovery can inspire hope in others – the Papageno effect.

I can create hope for those who lost someone to suicide by sharing experiences or stories of how survivors or the bereaved came to live their “new normal”, and be able to live through and with the loss.

I create hope when I can listen without judgment and just allow them to speak of their pain and despair. The person who is suffering often loses hope when they feel no one cares, no one really listens, and therefore they are not understood and alone. You do not need to tell them what to do or have solutions, but simply making the time and space to listen to them about their experiences of distress or suicidal thoughts can help.

I create hope when I change the way I speak about suicide so that the stigma is reduced and removed from the narrative surrounding suicide. It becomes easier for the person in despair to be more open about what they’re going through and seek help. In general conversations, avoid saying “it was such a silly/crazy thing to do” (referring to someone’s suicide), “she’s mental”, “he was so selfish”. You will never know who’s listening.

I create hope when I can take the conversation beyond a basic general “How are you?” Often enough people will reply “I’m fine” or in a typical Malaysian way say “surviving lah”. When you go further to say something like “You seem troubled/stressed/withdrawn. Want to talk about it?” – you open up the conversation and give the message that you really care about what’s happening to the person. It would be helpful to learn some of the signs of someone who is suicidal. A good source is Take 5 To Save Lives.

I create hope when I can assure the person that there is professional help and that you could help them find it or support them in their effort to reach out. Of course this means that you need to learn about the possible help available. Unless you are a trained professional, suicide is a complex issue that mental health professionals (psychiatrists, counsellors, psychologists) need to be consulted. But we can always continue to give the basic support of caring and listening. (Besides Befrienders KL 24/7 helpline at 03-76272929, there are several help resources listed on the opening page of our website)

Through action, you can make a difference to someone in their darkest moments and create hope – as a member of society, as a child, as a parent, as a friend, as a colleague or as a neighbour. But as you do this, be mindful of your own emotional state as supporting a person in despair and suicidal can weigh heavy on you too. A helper, carer can also reach out for emotional support.

Care for others, but also care for yourself. – September 9, 2021.

* Justin Victor is chairman of Befrienders KL.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.

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