The Malta Independent 18 October 2021, Monday

World Suicide Prevention Day

Friday, 10 September 2021, 09:10 Last update: about 2 months ago

Danjela Falzon

World Suicide Prevention Day is a day in which we, as a worldwide community, have the opportunity to create awareness around suicide, reduce stigma and encourage action which can reduce deaths. According to figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO), 800,000 people die by suicide each year. In addition, there are more than another 20 suicide attempts per completed suicide. These figures are quite staggering, yet they don’t even begin to address the number of lives touched by suicide on a wider scale, including the devastating effect on family, friends, classmates and colleagues when someone loses their life through suicide.

This year, the theme of World Suicide Prevention Day is Creating hope through action, reminding us that no matter how big or small our contribution, we have the power to provide a sense of hope to people who are struggling. If you know of anyone struggling with mental health issues or you suspect someone may be struggling in silence, I’d like to provide some guidance on ways you can provide support and hope.


Reach in

We often encourage people to reach out for help and support. Unfortunately, there’s still stigma associated with mental health and suicide, making it harder for people to feel safe and comfortable to speak openly about what they’re going through. Therefore, rather than waiting and hoping that someone we care about will reach out; let’s “reach in” instead. This means simply asking how someone is, but doing so with sensitivity, compassion and the willingness to truly listen and be fully present.

I spent five years working on a support line for teenagers. During this time, I spoke to many young people who were so distressed and in pain that they contemplated ending their lives.  Thankfully, the vast majority felt very differently by the time we stopped speaking. This is not to minimise the pain and distress they were experiencing or forget the fact that a lot more was needed than one conversation with someone working on a support line. However, it goes to show that when someone is truly heard and given the space to express their feelings without judgement, it can have the power to save a life. Your choice to “reach in” can plant a seed of hope in someone who’s struggling. Remember that!


Encourage understanding

Suicide is a topic with a great deal of shame and stigma attached to it and one which is often misunderstood. People often contemplate suicide for a number of complex and interacting factors.

A number of these are:

·        Depression

·        Psychiatric disorders – schizophrenia, bipolar disorder etc.

·        Substance abuse

·        Addiction – alcohol, drugs, gambling etc.

·        Chronic physical pain

·        Family history of suicide

·        Stressful life events – homelessness, abuse, job loss, loss of relationship, bullying

·        Extreme sense of hopelessness and despair

·        Not seeing the way out of a problem or situation

As a therapist, I often feel quite disappointed when I hear people say – “He had everything. Why would he do that?” or “Suicide is selfish”. Such statements minimise the intense pain and suffering experienced by people who attempt or die by suicide and reinforce the isolation and lack of understanding often experienced by those who feel their only option is to die.

Let’s change the narrative around suicide and remember that mental illness could touch each of us during our lifetime. We can do this by adopting a kinder, more compassionate attitude towards anyone who may be struggling with mental illness and encouraging people to seek professional support. Doing this can save the life of someone you care about.


Share experiences

I once had the privilege of meeting Jan, a woman whose daughter died by suicide a few years back. I use the word “privilege” because this short encounter with Jan was very moving and taught me the power of community to move through deep pain and loss. After losing her only daughter to suicide, Jan started a support group for people in her local area that had also lost loved ones to suicide. Learning about other people’s experiences, and hearing how they survived such a devastating loss, provided a beacon of hope to those going through similar experiences. Sharing our stories can bring comfort, relief and a sense of community to those who may be feeling very alone.

If you have a story about your own mental health and how you overcame it or if you lost someone you cared about to suicide, sharing your story can be very empowering and healing to those who are struggling. Needless to say, prior to sharing something which is very personal, it’s important that you feel emotionally ready to share your story. Ensure also that sharing your story won’t leave you feeling too exposed or unsafe. If unsure, speak first with someone you trust, like a friend, family member or therapist.


Danjela Falzon is a psychotherapist

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