Play Your Part on World Suicide Prevention Day

suicide prevention

To promote public commitment and action to prevent suicides in the lead up to World Suicide Prevention Day tomorrow, a leading pharmaceutical company and advocate for mental health is sharing advice on how to support a loved one after a suicide attempt.

Abdurahmaan Kenny, Mental Health Portfolio Manager for Pharma Dynamics says knowing how to deal with and support someone who has attempted to take their own life is crucial for their recovery.

“Your loved one may be depressed or suffering from another mental illness caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Therefore it is essential for them to see a trained healthcare professional, who will be able to make a proper diagnosis and prescribe the right treatment, which often involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Recovery (with the right help) is possible,” he says.

Many of us know someone who has attempted or committed suicide. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), there are 23 known cases of suicide a day in SA, and for every person that commits suicide, 10 have attempted it.

“When a loved one is affected, it can be traumatic as you need to support them, and deal with your own feelings about the suicide attempt – the anger, fear, shame and guilt. Saying and doing the right thing can be difficult.”

Kenny shares the following advice of how to support a loved one during such a tenuous time.

What to say (conversation prompts):

•      I’m sorry you’ve been feeling so awful. I’m so glad you’re still here.

•      I’m here for you. Remember that you can always talk to me if you need to.

•      I want to help you. Tell me what I can do to support you.

Various organisations, including Suicide Line (Australia) and Mental Health Foundation (NZ), advise the following ways of support:

•      As much as possible, remove the means to suicide, including drugs and alcohol.

•      Create a ‘safe space’ for the person to talk. Be available and let the person know you will listen. Accept them for who they are and let them know you care.

•      Try to understand the feelings and perspective of the person before exploring solutions together.

•      Explore and develop realistic plans and solutions to deal with their emotional pain / mental illness. For them to realise that suicide is not a solution, they will need to see real changes in their life. This will require making small steps in the beginning to change their situation.

•      Get your loved one the professional support they need. You could offer to go with them or help them to make appointments.

•      Enlist the help of other family and friends to assist you to support the person.

•      Together with the person, consider writing a safety plan that details the steps they need to take, should they feel suicidal. This will make both of you feel more prepared and in control about the possibility of future suicidal thoughts.

•      Support them to do the things they enjoy, keep physically active and connect with others.

•      Help them restore balance in their life, e.g. reducing alcohol intake, doing some exercise or getting enough sleep.

Unhelpful reactions

It is natural to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and even angry or resentful when a loved one attempts suicide. It’s important to be aware of your own feelings so that you refrain from reacting in ways that could cause your loved one to respond angrily or withdraw.

Here is a list of what not to say according to Suicide Line:

•      Panicking: “This can’t be happening. I don’t know what to do – what do we do?”

•      Name-calling: “You’re a real psycho.”

•      Criticising: “That was such a stupid thing to do.”

•      Preaching or lecturing: “You know you shouldn’t have done that; you should’ve asked for help.”

•      Ignoring: “If I just pretend this didn’t happen, it’ll go away.”

•      Abandoning the person: “I can’t take this; I have to leave.”

•      Punishing the person: “I’m not talking to them until they straighten themselves out.”

•      Dramatising: “This is the worst possible thing you could have done!”

•      Simplifying things or using a ‘quick-fix’ approach: “You just need some medication, and then you’ll feel yourself again.”

•      Showing anger: “I can’t believe you’d try that!”

•      Making the person feel guilty or selfish: “How did you think this would make me feel?” or “How could you do this to me?”

Kenny says using words such as “unsuccessful” or “failed” should be avoided. Instead, words, such as “suicide attempt” or “attempted to take their own life” should be used.

“Also avoid asking about how they harmed themselves (unless it’s to keep them safe), which can be distressing and triggering”.

Telling other people about the suicide attempt

“There is still a lot of stigma around suicide and you may fear the judgement and criticism of others. Who you choose to tell and how much you want to share, is up to you. It might be helpful to prepare something to say when asked, such as, ‘Yes, it’s a difficult time for us, but we’re getting him/her the support he/she needs’.

“As challenging as recovering from a suicide attempt can be, with time and support for your loved one and yourself, it can be overcome,” encourages Kenny.

If you are concerned that a loved one may be suicidal, or if you are having suicidal thoughts, contact Pharma Dynamics’ toll-free helpline on 0800 205 026, which is manned by trained counsellors who are on call from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.

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