Each of us probably knows someone who has considered, acted upon, or been affected by suicide before.
I say this because part of my job requires me speaking about this topic to a broad range of audiences and almost every time, someone breaks the silence about their experience with suicide.
It may be a hand raised tentatively, or a figure lurking after the session is over, or even the loudest voice in the room with way more knowledge about the topic than the average person. Slowly but surely, they start telling me about an extended family member, or friend, or the proverbial "someone who knows someone" whose lives suicide has affected.
With an average of more than one suicide a day in Singapore, and countless more who attempt or contemplate this drastic act, suicide is an issue which societies around the world grapple with.
Yet, due to a dangerous combination of stigma, misinformation, and a natural lack of impetus to find out more about such an inauspicious topic, we aren’t as insightful as we ought to be about this global public health concern.
Here are 5 facts you should know about suicide today.
1. Suicides happen in our community
Suicide isn’t something that’s widely covered in media, nor is it something which crops up often, if at all, in daily conversation. Hence, it can sometimes be shocking for some to find out that there was an average of 428 suicides yearly in Singapore from 2012-2016. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that for every suicide death, there may be more than 20 others who attempt it.
2. More people are affected than you think
Beyond suicide attemptors, another group of individuals of concern are suicide survivors. In Singapore, a suicide survivor is anyone who is affected by the suicide death of someone they know. Survivors may thus be family members, friends, colleagues, and even professional healthcare workers. A conservative estimate by the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) suggests that there are at least 6 survivors for every suicide.
3. Suicide is not a mental illness
While suicide and mental illness are closely related, they are not synonymous. However, it is true that those with mental health conditions can be at greater risk of suicide than the general population. That’s because mental illnesses affect people both psychologically and physically. This interferes with a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and can lead them to a diminished outlook on life.
4. There are warning signs
While suicide isn’t an illness or disease, there are nonetheless ‘symptoms’ or more accurately, warning signs. Suicide warning signs are generally grouped into three broad categories: Talk, Actions, and Mood. In addition to recognising warning signs, knowing what life events a person is currently going through and their risk factors plays a large role in determining if they might be at risk of suicide.
5. You can make a difference
You may be thinking, “If a person has suicide on their mind, there’s nothing I can do, right?”
You can do something. Suicide is preventable.
More often than not, individuals in a suicidal crisis don’t want to end their lives – they just want to get out of the painful situation they are in, but no longer know how to. Professional help and counselling play a key role in reducing a person’s suicide risk by helping them learn to cope with the struggles they are facing and see alternative solutions to their troubles.
At the same time, everyone can also play their part in suicide prevention. The first step is finding out more about the topic and equipping ourselves with the right knowledge and skills. Get started here today.