Editorial: Working Together to Prevent Suicides

If only it was so simple. And maybe it is

Today, 10 September is World Suicide Prevention Day and this section returns to this frequently visited theme again. As per the World Health Organisation, as many as 8 lakh people commit suicide every year [that’s one suicide every 40 seconds around the world] and around 25-times more attempt suicide. The numbers paint a scary picture and make this a challenge requiring the world’s attention. Remember, apart from the 8,00,000 lives lost to avoidable reasons, there are 2 crore others who have tied a noose for themselves or attempted some other form of ending their lives! If their triggers are left unattended, they will be among the statistics of those who ‘successfully’ self-destructed in the coming years. They are also clearly grappling with serious issues and even if those around them do not notice (or choose to ignore) the suicidal tendencies, they cannot be left untouched by the deep trauma of such conditions. When one takes this aspect also into consideration, then the impact of suicides and suicidal tendencies multiplies many times over because each victim and person at risk is part of a family, belongs to a circle of friends, goes to school, college or office and touches many lives on a daily basis and no matter how consciously one tries to camouflage the condition, it does get out and affect others; and with every death to a suicide, everyone associated with the person is hit by a sense of guilt at not having intervened in time. Hence, as much for the lives that can be saved through some timely intervention as also to save those left behind from wracking guilt, the theme for WSPD this year needs to be taken to heart. World Suicide Prevention Day is being observed across the world today reflecting the sentiment - ‘Working together to prevent suicide.’ What is being underlined through this theme is our collective responsibility as a community to look out for those struggling with suicidal thoughts, notice their condition and engage with them in a non-judgmental way, hear them out, offer sound counsel if we can and help them access professional assistance. Suicide is a vexed problem facing Sikkim which is why more people here need to spare a minute to muster the resolve to get engaged. Studies across the world have borne out that most times, all that it takes to pull a person back from the brink is a gentle word of support, even a gesture conveying that they need not suffer in isolation. This section has spoken often about how Sikkim is seeking to address the challenge of suicides without having figured out why so many here ending their own lives. That is an important data analysis to undertake and should be done soon, but today, let’s also focus on the need to remove the stigma still associated with suicides and suicide attempts, not just on the victims but also on their families. This stigma stops many from seeking help and also denies the community the opportunity to learn and prepare for the challenge. It is important that people who have lived through a suicide attempt to be able to share their experience more widely and teach others about the value of human engagement. Societies which have sought the assistance of survivors to inform the suicide prevention programmes have learned that words and actions of others are important mediums of saving lives. Those who have overcome suicidal tendencies have often spoken movingly about reaching the point where they could see no alternative but to take their own life, and about the days, hours and minutes leading up to this. They often describe realising that they did not want to die but instead wanted someone to intervene and stop them. Many say that they actively sought someone who would sense their despair and ask them whether they were okay. That is where the investment of a minute to notice these signals becomes important. The agencies engaged in addressing the problem of suicides can help by informing people at large about how they should respond and act when they notice someone around them struggling with such dark thoughts, because, let’s also accept that most of us do not know how to face such situations. And because we do not know, we choose to ignore. As the WHO message for the day shares, “Joining together is critical to preventing suicide. Preventing suicide requires the efforts of many. It takes family, friends, co-workers, community members, educators, religious leaders, healthcare professionals, political officials and governments. Suicide prevention requires integrative strategies that encompass work at the individual, systems and community level.” Data reveals that in the wake of every suicide, 135 people suffer intense grief or are otherwise affected. Given the number of suicides Sikkim has suffered, it would be safe to vouch that just everyone here has been affected by a death due to suicide. That, in itself, should be reason enough for everyone here to work together to prevent suicides. The theme for this day has been carefully chosen. After all, it highlights the most essential ingredient for effective suicide prevention - collaboration. We all have a role to play and together we can collectively address the challenges presented by suicidal behaviour in society today.