The other day, the world observed National Suicide Prevention Day.
Coming on the heels of Robin Williams’ demise, I was a bit disappointed to see all but a smattering of stories about the significance of this date. Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a landmark report, “Suicide, A Global Imperative,” which talks about what we can all do to curb the rising numbers by the year 2020.
In the WHO Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, WHO member states have committed to work towards the global target of reducing the suicide rate in countries by 10 percent by 2020.
WHO’s Mental Health Gap Action Programme, launched in 2008, includes suicide as one of the priority conditions and provides evidence-based technical guidance to expand service provision in countries.
Reading through the 92-page report, which is easily available online, I wondered to myself what our own country and the various stakeholders have been doing to help create a greater awareness of suicide, and in the process, reduce the stigma that surrounds it.
The report says that to help prevent suicide, countries should employ a multisectoral approach that addresses the issue in a comprehensive manner, bringing together different sectors and stakeholders most relevant to each context.
As a member of media, I feel strongly about the need to do stories that inform, and that highlight the seriousness of this social problem. I myself have witnessed families who have had family members who committed suicide, both young and old.
They bear, to say the very least, an unspeakable pain, and many families would rather not talk about it.
But there is great power in sharing stories and telling others that suicide is preventable and that it is not the only option.
There is no shame in admitting that one has tried to attempt or has at one time or another entertained such thoughts.
You are not doomed for life when you do so.
Every 40 seconds
The numbers are rising so it’s important to talk about it. The WHO reports that every 40 seconds, a person commits suicide somewhere in the world and many more attempt it. Suicides occur in all regions of the world and throughout the life span. Notably, among ages 15-29, suicide is the second leading cause of death globally.
This report is the first WHO publication of its kind and gathers what is known so that immediate action can be taken.
The report aims to increase the awareness of the public health significance of suicide and suicide attempts and to make suicide prevention a higher priority on the global public health agenda.
It aims to support countries to develop or strengthen comprehensive suicide prevention strategies in a multisectoral public health approach.
The tone must begin from the top, and it takes a whole village to make a national strategy work. Government or legislators can bring together stakeholders who may not otherwise collaborate.
The WHO report proposes practical guidance on strategic actions that governments can take based on their resources and existing suicide prevention activities.
I am not aware of any national programs here. Efforts, I believe, are being made only on a private level by individual firms, schools and organizations in collaboration with the Philippine Psychiatric Association.
Healthcare services must incorporate suicide prevention as a core component in school health, in community centers, hospitals, all the way to the barangay level. Mental disorders and harmful use of alcohol contribute to many suicides around the world. Early identification and effective management are key to ensuring that people receive the care they need.
Communities play a critical role in suicide prevention. They can provide social support to vulnerable individuals and engage in follow-up care, fight stigma and support those left bereaved by suicide.
Local governments, at their level, can do a lot to create a higher awareness for suicide prevention.
It was very interesting to note how media plays a crucial role in helping prevent suicide. “Responsible reporting of suicide in the media has been shown to decrease suicide rates. Important aspects of responsible reporting include: avoiding detailed descriptions of suicidal acts; avoiding sensationalism and glamorization; using responsible language; minimizing the prominence of suicide reports; avoiding oversimplifications; educating the public about suicide and available treatments; and providing information on where to seek help,” the report stressed.
The use of the Internet and social media has a potential role in a universal suicide prevention strategy. The report says that some websites that promote mental health are already showing promising results in promoting help-seeking behavior, but there is little evidence of effectiveness in preventing suicides.
The best examples of online suicide prevention strategies are online chats with professionals for suicidal people. Self-help programs and online therapy, which although effective, can be problematic due to ethical and compliance issues.
The sharing of stories has proven to be a potent tool, especially among the young. A website in the United Kingdom has clips of young people speaking about suicide attempts. These allow other youth to feel empathy with people in similar situations.
Alternatives when computers are not available include text messaging and the growing use of social media services on mobile devices for individual support and therapy. I see a huge possibility in this and perhaps the large telecommunication companies can look into the possibility of creating apps or services that can help disseminate information regarding suicide and mental health issues.
The bottom line is that action is needed to make prevention possible. The WHO has taken a giant step in this direction by creating this report that focuses solely on the issue of suicide.
Suicide is multi-factorial and a social problem but it can be solved and the numbers, if we all work together, can go down. “Suicide prevention approaches have evolved as communities and countries have changed their attitudes and beliefs regarding suicide. Stigma against seeking help for suicide has been reduced in many contexts. Now the challenge for policy-makers and other stakeholders is to embrace the increase in public dialogue about suicide and take advantage of the environment to implement a response,” says the report.
Not talking about it doesn’t help at all. Stories are powerful and if your life has been affected by depression or by suicide, I hope you find the courage to share it.
Wherever you are, whatever your role in life may be, there is something that you can do to help erase the stigma, and more important, help save a life.