Trigger warning: this article mentions and discusses suicide.
Today is Suicide Prevention Day, a day aimed at worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides. As suicide is the 17th leading cause of death worldwide, that is highly necessary.
With mental health issues increasing during COVID-19, it has become an even more urgent topic to discuss and act upon.
According to the WHO, someone dies to suicide every 40 seconds. Locally, Malta has seen 162 suicides over the last six years.
2020 saw 22 people pass away from suicide, and in the first half of 2021, 15 people in Malta have committed suicide.
And for every adult who died from suicide, there are more than twenty others who have attempted suicide.
Depression and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, though suicide is largely committed by men. Out of the 162 recent suicides, 131 were men – that comes down to 80%.
But beyond numbers and statistics, suicide affects real, living human beings. If not you, it could be your sibling, your mum, or your neighbour. You never know what is behind someone’s smile.
So here’s what to do in case you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts and ideations.
Are you or is someone you know suicidal?
Have you ever felt like life wasn’t worth living anymore? Do you know someone who suffers from severe depression and suicidal thoughts? Or have you perhaps even lost a loved one to suicide?
If you are thinking about suicide, your pain might seem overwhelming and insurmountable. But there are ways to cope with suicidal thoughts and feelings, and there are ways to heal from depression.
These are some examples of warning signs for suicide. If you or anyone you know are suffering from any of the below symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact a professional:
- Social withdrawal from friends, family and community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Talking, writing, or thinking about death
- Impulsive or reckless behaviour
- Aggressive or violent behaviour
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Eating too much or too little
- Feelings of hopelessness and loneliness
- Threats or comments about killing themselves
Suicide is preventable. Keep in mind; you don’t have to fight this battle alone. Feeling suicidal doesn’t mean you are weak, crazy or flawed. It simply means that you have more pain than you can cope with at the moment.
But it is possible, with time and treatment, to overcome your problems and feelings. Depression can be healed and hope can be renewed.
What to do when you are suicidal?
Try to remind yourself of these things when you are feeling suicidal:
- Depression can distort your vision, and whatever you believe right now is likely biased. Even if suicide seems like the only solution, there are ways out of your current situation. Act like there are options instead of suicide, even if you can’t see them right now.
- Your emotions are not fixed. Emotions change, and so does your state of mind. How you feel now may not be the same as you felt last week, last month or last year – and it is not how you will feel in a week, a month or a year from now.
- There are many things waiting for you in the future. There is so much you can still accomplish in your life, once you are in a better state of mind. Perhaps you have already done great things. Remind yourself of those things, and trust that you will be able to do so again at some point.
- There are people who love you, and who would be affected by your absence. Think of your parents, your siblings, your friends or your family. Though eventually you will learn that staying alive is something you do for yourself, reminding yourself of the people who love and need you might help you stay strong.
- You are just as capable of feeling joy and happiness as you are of experiencing distressing emotions. What you are feeling now is not permanent. You are likely to have experienced positive emotions before, and you will be able to experience them again in the future.
If you think you might hurt yourself or attempt suicide, these are good first steps to take:
- Do not do anything now. As your vision is likely distorted by your current state, your actions could be a permanent consequence of a temporary issue. Even though you are in a lot of pain, promise yourself not to do anything drastic for the time being. Your suicidal thoughts do not have to become a reality. Wait before turning thoughts into action.
- Reach out for help. Contact any of the mental health helplines listed below, some of which are available 24/7. If you are not comfortable reaching out to a professional, reach out to someone you trust. Though it might not feel like it now, there are people that can and want to help you.
- Learn coping strategies. This is not something to do by yourself, but something that will help you get through bad episodes. You need professional help to overcome suicidal thoughts, and your doctor or mental health provider can help you with teaching you coping strategies that work for you and your situation.
- Try to take care of yourself. When taking a shower feels like a mountain too high to climb, wash your face in the sink. If you don’t have the energy to brush your teeth right now, take a mint to feel fresher. Little steps towards taking proper care of yourself can already help you feel slightly better.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. Yes, these things might seem like a great way to escape your feelings. But drugs and alcohol harshly worsen your mental health in the long term, or the day after. It’s not a solution to your problems, and it will only make your situation worse.
- Aim to build health habits. Your mental health carer might advise you to do things you don’t want to do, like speaking to friends or going outside when you’d rather stay in bed all day. These things will get easier as they slowly turn into habits. In the end, they definitely make you feel better – even if it doesn’t feel like much.
What to do if someone you know is suicidal?
When talking to someone who is feeling suicidal it’s important to be cautious and remind them to seek the advice of medical professionals.
The first step to talking to someone who might be considering suicide is to ask questions. Make sure to stay calm and to acknowledge their feelings. Be sensitive, but direct.
It might be hard for someone to recognise their own behaviour as suicidal, or they might find it hard to admit it.
Use questions such as:
- How have you been dealing with life lately?
- Do you ever feel like you just want to escape?
- Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
- Are you thinking about dying?
It is tough when someone you care about shows signs of being suicidal. But keep in mind that there is always a way out. The best way you can help is by listening and being there.
You should also encourage them to get professional help, especially in situations where you are concerned for their wellbeing.
It might also be beneficial to assure them that you will support them through the whole process to further ascertain their safety. For instance, stay with them while they make a phone call or join them to their first appointment.
Breaking the stigma
Even if you don’t struggle with suicidal thoughts or don’t know anyone who does, there are ways to help prevent suicide.
Speaking up and reaching out is hard, and even more so if you’re afraid of people’s reactions. That’s why it’s important to break the stigma.
Learn about how to help reduce the stigma in last year’s Suicide Prevention Day article.
Suicide prevention resources
Luckily, mental health is a key priority for Malta. There are plenty of services, organisations and helplines to prevent suicide. Thanks to this, Malta’s reported suicide rates are actually lower than those of other European countries.
Here are a number of suicide prevention resources in Malta that are there to support you or someone you know when in need of help, or even to use for the sake of educating yourself.
179 is the official national helpline, offering support, information about social welfare services and other agencies, and offerin referrals to the relevant services to callers who require support.
With a 24/7 online chat, a useful ‘inform yourself’ section and professional staff, Kellimni.com is a great resource for youth in need of support, as well as those who want to inform themselves.
The Richmond Foundation offers support to people suffering from mental health problems and those around them. Besides therapy, they offer support groups, assisted living, a rehabilitation programme, an newly-launched online resource centre called Kif Inti?, and more. Their 1770 freephone is available 24/7.
Mount Carmel Hospital promotes a culture of mental health in Maltese society. Their specialist multi-disciplinary teams form an integrated community and hospital mental health services. Despite a past filled with controversy, their approach has led to many positive results.
The MHA Malta aims to raise awareness on mental health issues in order to reduce the stigma by educating family members of those suffering from mental illness. You can send them an email via their website, or text to 79800080.
Although steps have been taken to better the lives of all those suffering from mental illness and suicidal ideation, there is still space to grow regarding legislation and systemic support within the infrastructure of the health industry.
Do you know any other ways to support someone who’s struggling? Leave a comment to help others learn how to help