Press release: 10 September World Suicide Prevention Day
How to assist someone who is suicidal
When someone suffers a physical injury, such as breaking a leg or accidentally cutting themselves on a sharp object, they are typically treated with sympathy and receive first aid treatment as quickly as possible until they are able to receive professional medical care. However, when someone experiences a mental health problem or crises, such as a panic attack or feeling suicidal, they are often stigmatised and their problem treated as a personal weakness instead of a serious health concern.
Suicide is a topic that is still surrounded by much stigma, despite the fact that the World Health Organisation estimates that over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. Knowing what to do to assist someone who is suicidal or who you suspect may be thinking of taking their own life is an important skill that everyone should have. This is where mental health first aid comes in.
Mental health first aid is the help offered to a person developing a mental health problem, experiencing a worsening of an existing mental health problem or in a mental health crisis. The first aid is given until appropriate professional help is received or until the crisis resolves.
The aims of mental health first aid are to:
1. Preserve life where a person may be at risk of harm
2. Provide help to prevent the mental health problem from becoming more serious
3. Promote recovery of good mental health
4. Provide comfort to a person with a mental health problem
Mental health first aid will typically be offered by someone who is not a mental health professional, but rather by someone in the person’s social network (such as family, friend or work colleague) or by someone who may come into contact with potentially vulnerable individuals on a daily basis, such as a teacher, police officer, or social worker.
On World Suicide Prevention Day, SAFMH would like to encourage people to make use of mental health first aid to help anyone they know or encounter who may be feeling suicidal. It is important to understand that most people who are suicidal do not want to die, they simply want the pain that they are feeling to end. Helping them to openly talk about their suicidal thoughts and feelings may help to save a life. Do not underestimate your ability to help someone who is feeling suicidal.
Mental Health First Aid Steps to help someone who you believe is suicidal:
· Prepare yourself to approach the person and talk about your concerns.
Be aware of your own attitudes surrounding suicide and mental health problems. If the person you are talking to senses that you are judging them or their behaviour they are less likely to open up to you. Remember that your own personal feelings about suicide, whether informed by your religious or cultural beliefs, are less important than providing assistance to a person in need.
· Ask about thoughts of suicide.
Anyone could be experiencing thoughts of suicide, and the only way to know for sure is to ask them directly. Often people are scared to talk about suicidal thoughts openly, because they fear that this will put ideas into a person’s head. But this is not true. Someone who is not suicidal will not suddenly become so because you ask them about it, and someone who is suicidal will probably appreciate the opportunity to talk with someone who cares about them. When talking to the person you could ask, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” But do not word the question in a way that is judgmental, for example, “You are not thinking of doing something stupid are you?”
· Be supportive and understanding.
It is more important to make sure the person knows that you care and that you want to help them, than to worry about saying the “right” things. Give the person your undivided attention and make sure they understand that they are cared for and that there are people who want to help them with whatever difficulties they are facing. Do not dismiss the person’s feelings or their reasons for wanting to die, even if you do not understand them yourself. Acknowledge the courage that it takes for the person to speak honestly about these things.
· Establish whether the person is in immediate danger.
A person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts may have vague feelings that their life is not worth living, or they may be actively planning to take their own life. It is important to determine whether the person you are talking to is likely to harm themselves and whether they are in any immediate danger. Ask the person questions such as whether they have a plan for suicide, whether they have attempted suicide before in the past, or whether they have been using drugs or alcohol, as substance intoxication may increase a person’s likelihood of acting on suicidal thoughts.
· If a suicide risk is present, keep the person safe.
If you establish that a person is in danger of talking their own life, you should take steps to help keep them safe. The most important aspect of this is not to leave them on their own. If they have friends or family that you feel should be informed or can provide assistance, contact them. If you are unsure how to respond in such a situation you can also call 24 hour helplines, such as the SADAG suicide line or the Lifeline crises line, where someone will assist you.
· Encourage the person to get professional help.
This is the most important step. Despite the fact that people can provide assistance by implementing mental health first aid or by supporting someone who is suicidal, ultimately those steps are not a substitute for seeking professional medical help. Whether the person is in immediate danger of taking their life or not, they should always be encouraged to seek professional help. Provide the person with information on emergency numbers and suicide helplines for them to make use of if necessary. Also encourage them to find someone to talk to, such as a counselor, psychologist or doctor. Most suicidal people do not simply recover on their own, especially not when they have other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse. It is important that they understand that there are people equipped to help them, and that it is possible for them to recover.
SADAG 24 Hour Suicide Crisis Line
0800 567 567
Lifeline 24 Hour National Counselling Line
0861 322 322
FOR ENQUIRIES INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Programme Manager: Information & Awareness
SA Federation for Mental Health
011 781 1852
Janine Binneman Jewellery (JBJD) has partnered with the South African Federation for Mental Health and will be donating 10% of each semi colon jewellery piece sold to SAFMH.
The semi colon project was created to raise awareness for people struggling with depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide. The semi-colon is a symbol of hope and perseverance worldwide as it is representative of when an author decides to use a semi-colon to continue a sentence rather than end it. JBJD has taken this concept to new heights with her beautiful range of semi-colon necklaces and rings that can be worn daily so that one can constantly be reminded to persevere and push through, even when times are tough.
Janine Binneman is renowned for producing exciting and meaningful jewellery that touches the hearts of her clients. She believes that mental health is just as important as physical health since one’s mind and body are inseparable and hopes that more and more people will lean on family and friends for support when struggling and make use of the help available to them.
Her semi-colon range is extremely close to her heart and was developed to raise awareness for those fighting these battles daily. This range is a powerful reminder that we all have the power to continue our stories.
Sterling silver semi-colon rings: R380 each, made to order
Sterling silver semi-colon necklaces: R550 each, made to order
Our dear colleague, Elna Welman (Director of Pietermaritzburg Mental Health Society), passed away unexpectedly after a short illness on Thursday, 11 August 2016.
Elna was well-loved and admired for her enduring commitment to persons with disabilities; she will always be remembered for her courageous and warm heart and especially her passion to help and support those in need of care.
We are all united in our grief and our memories of her incredible spirit.