World Suicide Prevention Day: Working together to prevent suicide — Victor Tan

SEPTEMBER 10 — In the past decade, suicide has gained prominence as a global problem of epidemic proportions.

Studies summarised in the World Suicide Report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2014 indicate that each year over 800,000 people lose their lives to suicide.

To put this in perspective, this is more than the total deaths resulting from other violent acts such as homicide, war and terrorism combined.

To emphasise the dire need to address this critical public health issue, the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have designated September 10 as World Suicide Prevention Day.

This annual event, which has run since 2003, is intended to generate publicity and serve as a reminder to governments and public health institutions worldwide on the tremendous social impact of suicide. This year’s theme is "Working Together to Prevent Suicide."

Modern psychological research reveals to us that suicide is a complex issue caused by the interplay of a variety of risk factors: Genetic, cultural, psychological and social.

People who die from suicide struggle with a mixture of problems that are often unique to each individual. This presents a significant challenge to public health experts worldwide who are working to find solutions at national and international levels.

One of the key findings from the seminal World Suicide Report is that suicide prevention efforts are significantly enhanced if they involve joint efforts from multiple parties at appropriate times.

Family members, friends and co-workers constitute the front-line in detecting the initial warning signs of suicidal thought among individuals within their family or social circle.

Public health and non-governmental organisations can educate these front-liners on the most effective ways of reaching out to the suicidal and pointing them to professional help.

There is often a great deal of stigma associated with obtaining help for mental health illnesses. This has its roots in outdated religious and cultural biases.

The consequences can be tragic, however, as untreated mental disorders such as depression often deteriorate into overwhelming suicidal thoughts.

In this respect, religious leaders and influential community figures need to publicly address misconceptions of mental health illness as some form of sin or immoral behaviour.

They can rally their communities to encourage individuals who are afflicted with such illnesses to seek appropriate professional help.

Many individuals who struggle with suicidal thoughts eventually recover and return to productive roles in society.

Their personal experience can be invaluable in informing governmental efforts to formulate more effective suicide prevention measures.

They can help as well by serving as role-models and sources of inspiration for those who are still struggling and disheartened with the debilitating effects of mental illnesses.

Mental health professionals in turn will need tighter integration of their rehabilitative efforts to ensure that an individual at risk of suicide does not inadvertently fall through the public health safety net.

Psychiatrists, general physicians, psychotherapists and social workers need to communicate constantly with each other with regards to the emotional and mental state of such individuals so that immediate intervention can be taken should there be any sign that a suicide attempt might be imminent.

Endeavours should be made to ensure that all treatment protocols and prevention efforts adhere as much as possible to the latest scientific evidence available.

This requires active and constant engagement between the academic research community and the medical professionals that deal with suicidal patients on a daily basis.

At the governmental level, appropriate social and policy reforms must be instituted to ensure that individuals who suffer from mental illness can obtain support from their employers to access appropriate treatment. The importance of treating mental disorders effectively needs to be given equal footing with other preventive efforts targeting traditional illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes.

To reach our common goal in preventing suicidal behaviour, we will all need to work together collaboratively in a coordinated fashion. It is crucial to realize that each and everyone of us, no matter what our position and function in society might be, has an important contribution to make towards suicide prevention.

Since our inception in 1970, the primary goal of Befrienders KL has been the provision of a safe space for people to share their painful emotions or suicidal thoughts in a confidential, supportive and non-judgmental environment.

We are part of the Befrienders Worldwide, an organisation that has its roots in the Samaritans UK and is now present in over 40 countries worldwide. Our vision is a world in which fewer people feel the need to end their own lives, and our mission towards this end is to alleviate distress and help reduce the risk of suicide through emotional support and public education.

Emotional support is provided through three primary channels: a telephone helpline that is available 24 hours every day throughout the year (03-79568145), face to face through a prior appointment and email at [email protected]

We also do outreach to the community, particularly to groups at high risk of suicide, to provide on-site emotional support, talks, workshop sessions and seminars on listening skills, suicide prevention, capacity building and mental health awareness.

Life is precious and sometimes precarious. Joining hands and working together in unison is absolutely critical if we are to successfully address the complex issue of suicide. An African proverb observes wisely that it takes an entire village to raise a child; we can equally surmise that a communal effort too is necessary to save one.

* Victor Tan is deputy chairman of The Befrienders KL.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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