Light in a Time of Darkness

Suicide is a rising trend among people who live in urban situations but how can we prevent it happening to our friends and loved ones?

According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey (2015), mental health problems had an upwards trend from 10.7 percent in 1996 to 29.2 percent in 2015. It was reported that in 2014, there were 425 cases of suicide in the country and involved individuals who had emotional and work problems.

1Twenty80 spoke to Faith Foo, registered and licensed counsellor at Faith Foo Counseling, a centre for Individual, Couple & Marriage Counseling, about suicide and what we can do to help prevent it.

1Twenty80: In your experience, how would you judge a person to be suicidal?

Faith Foo: As a clinician one of the more immediate, informal, and brief forms of assessment that I used when interacting with someone expressing suicide ideation are:

Look for specificity – if the person is going to harm him/herself, how would they do it?
If the answer to this question is specific, risk is higher. If not, it is lower.
Look for lethality – If a specific method is described, would such a method actually be lethal?
If yes, higher risk; if no, lower risk.
Look for access – Does the person have access to whatever tool or method they have described they would use to harm or kill themselves?
If yes, higher risk; if not, lower risk.
Look for proximity to help – If an attempt was made, will it likely happen in a situation in which someone could rescue the person and stop the attempt?
If yes, the risk is lower; if not, higher.

1Twenty80: Who are at higher risk of suicide?

Faith Foo: People of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and physical capabilities are at risk for suicide. Suicide affects both the strong and the weak. It can happen to anyone.

1Twenty80: What kind of conditions could lead to suicidal thoughts or suicide?

Faith Foo: According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), 90 percent of people who die by suicide are experiencing a mental health issue at the time of their deaths. Depression is one of the most common factors attached to suicidal ideation, but people who experience bipolar tendencies or other mood-altering conditions are also at higher risk. Psychosis, excessive alcohol consumption, and the use of mind-altering drugs are other factors which can increase impulsivity and heighten the risk of suicide.

1Twenty80: Could the prosecution of attempted suicide in Malaysia be a reason for it to be so difficult for people to seek help?

Faith Foo: Yes, people who are suicidal often do not know how to obtain help and prosecution of attempted suicide is definitely not helpful. While prolonged suffering is typical in suicide-related cases, it is important to remember that suicidal persons are not always merely trying to escape pain. Most genuinely believe that there is no good reason to continue living and that the world will be a better place without them.

1Twenty80: What are red flags to look out for?

Faith Foo: With suicide rates on the rise, it is important as family members, friends, and therapists that we all be aware of the most common signs of suicide ideation and what to do if we notice someone who is:

  • Feeling sad or depressed most of time
  • Unable to enjoy and withdrawing from family and friends
  • Showing decreased self-esteem
  • Suddenly trying to tie up loose ends and giving away possessions
  • Sudden happiness following significant sadness
  • Increase in self-destructive behaviors such as driving fast, unsafe sex, and substance use
  • Talk about ways to die. Sometimes people will begin asking friends for extra medications or ways to obtain weapons.

If you notice these signs in anyone you know, you should make every effort to have the person seek professional mental health care. If you believe someone has attempted suicide (such as taking too many pills), call emergency services immediately.

Suicidal ideation is a very serious mental health concern, and it is not advisable that someone without professional training in dealing with suicide attempt to counsel a person who might be suicidal.

1Twenty80: What is the first step to take when you identify someone that is suicidal?

Faith Foo: If a family member or friend expresses suicidal thoughts, do not ignore him or her. That person might desperately need your help. Some steps you can take to help:

  • Ask questions in a sincere manner.
  • Explain why you are asking questions.
  • Express that they are not alone, and that you are there for him or her.
  • If the person is not comfortable speaking with you, suggest a qualified third party such as a therapist, spiritual leader, or doctor.
  • Do not passively tell him or her to just call a hotline; lead the person to helpful resources such as suicide hotlines and local mental health associations.
  • Help the person schedule and keep appointments with a mental health professional, even if the individual no longer feels suicidal.

Sadly, is true that most who attempt suicide never seek professional care. Let them know you want to care them and that you may not know what to do. One of the most important things that any of us can do is to help build their support system. They may have such positive people in their life and yet these resources have no idea that this person is struggling. Help them make the connection, they need the support and encourage them to seek help.

1Twenty80: If the situation escalates, what should we do?

Faith Foo: If safety permits, the person should be taken by friends or family to any hospital emergency department, where the person will receive a comprehensive evaluation and possible placement inside a mental health facility.

1Twenty80: How can we as a community help prevent suicide?

Faith Foo: As family members, friends, and confidants, we have a responsibility to assist the people we care about.  Education on suicide, how to prevent it and how to handle flow of conflicts in a healthy way in addition to campaigns and psychoeducational workshops on Suicide Prevention are much needed to educate the community. Knowing common risk factors and warning signs can prove life-saving when working with the general public.

Suicide is preventable. Finding professional help for those who may be having suicidal thoughts are the most important steps we can take to save lives. It is important to contact your local suicide hotline; they can walk you through the steps of helping yourself, your friend, or your family member.

1Twenty80: What is your take home message to our readers?

Faith Foo: Mental health professional can help the person and the family members develop a safety plan before suicidal thoughts worsens and this is a key element in the treatment of those at risk for suicide. Having a support systems early and identifying risky behaviour can be a life-saver. It is best to have a plan of prevention and response in place before a crisis.

A mental health professional can help develop an excellent care and safety plan in the very first session. It is vital to seek professional help to offer the necessary support.

Published on September 10, 2017. Link 1Twenty80 Health Magazine

© Faith Foo,  [2018]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Faith Foo and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.