In a place like Nepal with limited resources for those with suicidal thoughts, friends and family can be of tremendous help
In my previous article (“Killer mentality,” May 20) I discussed how suicide is perceived in our society. In this one, I want to talk about how we, as laypeople, can help those with suicidal thoughts and how we can de-stigmatize the concept of suicide.
One of the main reasons people do not feel safe reporting suicide attempts in Nepal is because attempted suicide is considered a crime and the individual can face imprisonment, fine, or both. Family members thus hesitate to seek help and report suicide attempts.
However, there are a multitude of things you can do to prevent suicide. First, you need to know the warning signs. Some of the warning signs are easier to spot like suicide notes and direct threats like “I want to kill myself”. However, some more difficult ones are depression, indirect comments like, “I don’t think anyone would miss me if I were gone”, statements about feeling hopeless/trapped or feeling like there is no solution. Some other statements about feeling unbearable pain, and saying that they are a burden to others are also signs that someone is thinking about suicide.
You should also look out for symptoms like making final arrangements, and hurting oneself. Friends, family, and community (school or college) should pay attention to drastic changes in behavior. These changes may be in the form of having trouble concentrating, skipping classes/homework, withdrawing from friends and family, changes in eating and sleeping habits, and recurrent talks about death and suicide.
Now that we know about some of the warning signs, what can we do to help those with suicidal thoughts or tendencies and possibly prevent suicide?
The number one thing you can do is ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide/killing themselves. Research has shown that asking someone directly if they are thinking of suicide does not increase the likelihood of them actually committing suicide.
Therefore, ask them directly. If they are not thinking about it, they will say so. They may get angry, but at least you know. If they are thinking about it, they will most likely invite the question/conversation and then appropriate actions can be taken to keep them safe.
If you do not ask them and they go on to take their own life, it would be a life you could have saved but couldn’t because you felt awkward asking a question. Better safe than sorry. I have asked this question many times and have never regretted it. Once you have asked them the question, create a safe space for them. This includes not judging what they are saying. Remember to LISTEN. Additionally, it is absolutely okay for there to be long periods of silence. It may mean that they are thinking or that they are taking time to feel comfortable talking to you. Do not panic and rush to give advice. You need to make them trust you.
Second, let them know how important they are to you and that you want to help them.
Never tell them that you understand what they are going through. YOU DON’T. No one could possibly understand what they are going through. Instead of telling them that you understand, tell them that you care for them and that you want them to feel better.
Empathize with them. But don’t tell them that you understand what they are experiencing because they know it’s most likely not true.
One of the biggest don’ts of suicide prevention is telling them that their secret is safe with you. Do not make this promise. To make sure they are safe, you have to either call for help or take them to a professional. Hence, making a promise that you will not tell anyone is a lie. Do not be a junior psychiatrist because you are not. Do not believe that you can keep them from hurting themselves on your own. Get help!
Finally, make sure they do not feel threatened by you and remove the means of self-harm.
However, DO NOT put yourself at risk. If you panic, they will panic too. Therefore, stay calm and then try to make them calm. If they trust you, they will not feel threatened by you. Additionally, do not leave the person alone. They should be under constant supervision.
In a place like Nepal where resources are limited for individuals with suicidal thoughts, friends and family can also take steps to provide necessary help. Family support and communication can help create a healthy environment that lessens the risk. Support from friends and other social networks can also be helpful. The most helpful thing would be to have easy access to medical and mental health resources, but since that is limited in Nepal, we, as people who care, need to be prepared to help to the best of our abilities.
The author has a degree in psychology from Randolph College in Virginia