Did you really want to die?”
“No one commits suicide because they want to die.”
“Then why do they do it?”
“Because they want to stop the pain”
-Tiffanie De Bartol in ‘How to Kill a Rock Star’
Suicide is a word we do not want to hear.
It is an act that is held in strong disapproval by the norms of our society.
We paint over with words such as ‘immoral’ and ‘cowardice.’
Suicide is an act that goes against our innate instinct to survive and any attempts to break this rule creates a sense of unease.
Yet paradoxically, the less we talk about the issue, the more it grows.
Suicide is one of the top three causes of deaths in young adults and the most common cause of death in men aged 35 and under in the United Kingdom.
The burden of these statistics lies on all of us; suicide can often be a symptom of society.
Suicide is not a diagnosis. It is an issue as complex as the person who carries it out, with factors from all parts of life playing their role, be they financial, cultural or social.
Although mental health problems such as depression can be a common cause of suicide, psychopathology is not always linked to the act: sometimes life stressors can take their toll, the day-to-day life grinding away at our self-worth.
There is no one factor that leads to this downfall but a mixture of life stressors, traumatic events and one’s emotional resources.
When we look at human beings, we see that we are not just a bundle of proteins and molecules. We are complex creatures, transformed through our culture, family and life experiences. When it comes to an act as extreme as suicide, we realise how complicated we really are.
But if suicide is such a complex act, how do we begin to quench it? The issue is not just a medical problem to hand over to our healthcare professionals.
It affects us all as a society. One of the precipitating factors of suicidal ideation is isolation and the feeling of hopelessness and no one to turn to can become dangerous if left to grow in the darkness of the mind.
Our role is to help these people to raise their voices, providing them with a safe atmosphere where they can open up the recesses of their mind without judgment.
Talking itself has been found to be therapeutic, and a listening ear can do wonders when people realise that they are not alone in their thoughts.
One example of such a strategy is the ‘UK Charity Samaritans,’ a telephone listening service. Started in 1953 as a ‘999 for the suicidal’, its roots lie with the London Vicar Chad Varah after he conducted his first funeral for a 14-year-old girl.
The teenager had started her period, but having no one to speak to, believed that she had a sexually transmitted disease and took her own life.
The Samaritans, now 60 years old, has become a familiar charity in the UK, with TV adverts telling us that it is OK to pick up the phone and talk and posters emblazoned over railway stations giving hope to those who believe they are taking their final steps.
These campaigns are excellent examples of the support that can be provided.
In 2011, the Samaritans received 2,384,710 calls with 21.1% expressing suicidal thoughts.
Gunjan Sharma is a third year medical student at Cardiff University (Wales) UK, with an interest in Global Mental Health. She recently won the First Prize in an Essay Competition on ‘Suicide and Suicide Prevention’ conducted by the London based Centre for Applied Research and Evaluation‐International Foundation, details for which appears in a separate story in this Section.