Suicide prevention month: Let us talk and prevent suicide

By the Counselling Department

The risk of suicide is a major global health concern. Suicidal thoughts can happen to anyone – the strong or the weak, all races, nationalities, ethnicity, careers and different walks of life.

Suicide is reported to be among the leading cause of death for teens and young adults. September is a Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. In this month we encourage us all to shift our perception, spread hope and share vital information on suicide. In line with the theme of the month “Together for Mental Health,” the goal is to ensure that individuals, friends and families have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and to seek help.

Suicidal thoughts, attempts and death by suicide is an indication of a serious mental health problem that needs intervention for those that struggle with suicidal thoughts, the survivors of attempted suicide and for family and friends of those who die from suicide. This is an appeal to all of us to bring our voices together to advocate for better mental health care, including an effective crisis response system.

Perception or meaning of death by suicide
It is worth noting that the meaning of suicide for a given individual can vary from one person to another. How people perceive death by suicide matters. There are people who will perceive it as rejection, abandonment, betrayal, disloyalty. For some the death is perceived as a choice with a critical interpersonal message from the deceased about the lack of worth or value of the relationship.
Effects of death by suicide on survivors of the loss
Death by suicide causes long lasting psychological experiences of distress, pain, anger, rage, directed at self or the deceased, self-doubt, guilt, anxiety, fear of being misjudged especially for parents, struggle with thoughts of being a failure, struggle with the why questions e.g. why didn’t he/she come to me for help? Why was I not in a position to keep him/her from dying? Struggle with meaning making, was this really a suicide or was it an accident, it puts other people at risk of suicide as well, it alters the quantity and quality of connection between the mourners and the social networks, in case it is a child, it strains the relationship between partners, erodes family cohesiveness and can bring about conflict, there is also a struggle with the stigma that the family/friends face as a result of the suicide. It can lead to feelings of alienation and estrangement from the deceased.

Some of the activities one can do;
Letter writing to the deceased or initiating a conversation with the deceased using “an empty chair” and more important going for counseling or therapy.

Warning signs for suicide – How we can tell someone is in danger of suicide

  • Feelings of frustration, hopelessness, powerlessness
  • Being trapped in emotional pain
  • Strong feeling of worthlessness
  • Feelings of not wanting to be a burden to others
  • Withdrawal or isolation;
  • Feeling alone/loneliness
  • Strong feeling of shame, self-hatred, guilt, rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Depression/major depressive disorder
  • Onset of treatment for depression
  • Talking about death / talking of wanting to die
  • Increased use of alcohol or reckless behavior
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Belief that no one cares if they live or die Saying things like “Nothing matters anymore,” “You’ll be better off without me,” or “Life isn’t worth living”
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and normal activities
  • Giving away personal possessions
  • Talking as if they’re saying goodbye or going away forever
  • Taking steps to tie up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts
  • Making or changing a will
  • Stockpiling pills or obtaining a weapon
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Sudden cheerfulness or calm after a period of despondency,
  • Dramatic changes in personality, mood and/or behavior
  • Failed romantic relationship
  • History of suicide attempts or other self-harming behaviors
  • History of family/friend suicide or attempts

Talking to someone you are worried about
If you notice any of the warning signs or if you’re concerned someone is thinking about suicide, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it.

  • Keep calm, pick a quiet time when you can talk in private
  • Be direct, share specific signs you’ve noticed and ASK if they are feeling suicidal, find out if they have felt this way before, and ask if they need help
  • Convey your concern to the person

Focus on being understanding, caring and nonjudgmental, saying something like:

“You are not alone. I’m here for you”;
“I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help”;
“I’m concerned about you and I want you to know there is help available to get you through this”;
“You are important to me; we will get through this together.
  • Do not sound judgmental or accusatory in a way that will make the person feel bad
  • If the person decides to talk to you, just listen.
  • Remove potential means such as weapons and medications to reduce risk.
  • Link them with the help they need. Call the National Suicide Prevention toll free numbers 1192, 116, 1195 or 1190. You can also call the USIU-Africa Counseling Center on +254 730 116 797 /746 /748 /791 /750, the Security Department on +254 730 116 774 or the Dean of Students on +254 730 116 781.

Remember that speaking up when suicidal isn’t attention seeking and having mental health issues or stressors in your life doesn’t make you weak.

Seeking professional help

There is need for seeking professional help when one has experienced death of a loved one or an important person in their life through suicide. Counseling helps with:

  • Creating a physical and psychological safe space, where one can freely talk about the death, something one may not freely do out there because of the stigma associated with death by suicide. Loss and Grief therapy can be provided for the individual or for the family.
  • Having control over the grief rather than the grief controlling the person. The person is helped to voluntarily regulate the intense pain and also address the feelings/emotions, thoughts, behavior e.g. withdrawal from others as a result of the loss, deal with any unfinished business with the deceased, manage the shame and the dishonor and other issues in the immediate environment.
  • Developing a bearable narrative of the suicide to help pick disturbing issues that are yet to be processed as well as offering emotional relief.
  • Allowing all those affected to have a realistic and fair explanation of what happened.
  • Rather than just viewing the suicide as a one person’s mistake or failure, looking at all the different factors that allowed suicide to happen.
  • Acknowledgment of the truth of what had happened.
  • Repairing the relationship with the deceased and agreeing on the responsibility the survivor should realistically and fairly assume.
  • Getting relief from the trauma caused by the exposure or imagination of the suicide.
  • Working towards repairing, rebuilding, restoring and reclaiming their beliefs about safety, predictability and control.
  • Enhancing the sense of self, who am I?
  • Enhancing understanding of their relationship with other people.
  • Restoring a positive image and confidence in the person’s functioning as a parent, sibling or friend to the deceased.
  • Allowing them to learn how to cope with the changes brought about by the death and begin to re-invest in living their life without the deceased.

Healing after suicide loss requires that survivors find reason to go on with their life and focus on the existential questions and reasons for survival.

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