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For Suicide Prevention Month, clinical psychologist Aarathi Selvan gives some tips and insights on suicidal thoughts, their symptoms, and prevention.
Trigger warning: discussion of depression and suicide which may be triggering to survivors.
Suicide Prevention Day is centred around creating awareness about suicide prevention, and aiding those around us to fight suicidal thoughts.
Conversations and discussions around suicide in India have been in motion on television and social media. Various entities have presented different thoughts and opinions around the subject.
According to the World Health Organisation report of 2019, every 40 seconds, we lose someone to suicide. During the pandemic, these figures have gone up. Issues at home, job losses or anxiety about the future have given way to suicidal thoughts for many people.
Women’s Web conversed with clinical psychologist Aarathi Selvan about everything from suicidal thoughts, the reasons behind them and their prevention. We have in the past, talked to Aarathi Selvan about mental stress. We hope you have come across that article and read it as well.
In this article, Aarathi Selvan talks about suicidal thoughts as well as prevention.
What is the difference between mental stress and suicidal thoughts?
In her last interview, Aarathi Selvan mentioned that it has become difficult to decide whether it is a pandemic of a virus or of mental stress. In this case, one does not know when their thoughts or stress turn into suicidal thoughts.
Explaining the difference between the two, Aarathi Selvan said “In our life, stress is a common response to many things and usually has a defined limit. We tend to be stressed in various situations such as when we begin a new job, have a child or suddenly have an increased work load. However, suicidal thoughts occur only when we are in an extreme or severe amount of stress. When feel like we have tried everything in our power to repair a situation and that there is no way left, we may begin to think that the only solution left is to end our life. In these cases of extreme stress, we begin to experience suicidal thoughts.”
Is the depression the only cause for suicidal thoughts? What are the other causes of suicidal thoughts?
“No. Even depression has certain limits. Only when someone experiences extreme or severe depression, suicidal thoughts arise. There is also a big difference between suicidal feelings and the thoughts, ideation and planning around it.
Sometimes, suicidal thoughts may arise from other mental health conditions such as anxiety. Further, it is not necessary that causes for suicidal thoughts are only mental-health related.”
Recently, there have been so many more cases of suicide, especially among the youth and among women. What is the reason behind this?
“Often, we are in difficult situations related to our economic condition or relationships. Especially right now, it is a very stressful time for women. Domestic violence, increased work load can be such a strain that it could make women to not want to live.
In the case of the youth, fear of failure is a common cause for stress. Especially among students of engineering and medicine, suicidal thoughts are more common. Thus suicidal thoughts can have many more causes other than depression.”
How do we realise if someone around us is having suicidal thoughts? What are the symptoms?
Family and friends may often be the ones to recognise these thoughts in people. For example, people who are usually extroverts begin to remain silent. Often, people begin to bid goodbyes, call people in their life or check on their life insurance. These symptoms are recognizable.
People may also begin to not do anything about a difficult situation in their life or give opposite reactions when things happen. They may cry when they should have been laughing or laugh when they should have been crying. These are all signs of distress that may take the form of suicidal thoughts. In these situations, friends and family must come ahead and help the person out.
If we begin to have suicidal thoughts, how can we help ourselves?
If we are alone with ourselves, we must often check in with ourselves about hoe we are feeling. Was I too stressed today? Every person knows for themselves, what resources may make them feel better. Some people may dance or create art to feel better. Other may want to talk to family, friends or their therapist. If someone is going through mild stress, these things can help. However, if you are under severe stress, it is important to get help. We are all normal human beings, we all have problems and stress.
“In cases of extreme stress, we must take help from a counsellor or a therapist. We may be experiencing mild stress on a daily basis. But when stress gets out of hand, being with family and friends also doesn’t help, it is important to visit a clinical psychologist,” Aarathi explains.
How can we help a family member or friend experiencing suicidal thoughts?
“All kinds of feeling should be normalised within families. It is not important or necessary that we always remain happy. Similarly, it is not necessary to pretend to be happy in front of others. Families and friends must talk about all emotions openly. For example, when someone tells us that they are sad, we immediately ask them to stop thinking about whatever is making them sad or to stop being sad. However, it is impossible for us to immediately switch from sad to happy.”
“Instead, we must ask them about what is making them sad, how they are feeling and how they want us to help. It is important to ask open ended questions. This makes the person feel that they have family and friends to support them. Thus all emotions must be talked about.”
Many people often stop before they almost die from suicide but stop themselves? What exactly stops them? This is a positive step…
Suicidal thoughts occur in situations where our line of thought is very narrow. We think that there is no other way out of a situation, that we are no longer in control. Often people having suicidal thoughts want to get rid of a situation or a problem instead of ending their lives. Sometimes, in the final moments people often think “Can I still try to fix this?” These thoughts stop people from taking the final step.
How can we prevent suicide?
Explaining the steps, Aarathi Selvan said that if someone is experiencing severe stress, family members and friends must ask whether they are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Yes, only if directs questions like these are asked can we obtain direct answers.
Next, we must assure the person that these thoughts can occur. It is a common belief that people who have suicidal thoughts are weak or are not brave. This is not the case. In distress, anyone may have these thoughts. In these situations, the person must be taken to a therapist or a clinical psychologist.
(It is a very big myth that asking about suicidal thoughts may cause someone to develop them. This does not happen. In situations of distress, suicidal thoughts will occur. If we ask about suicidal thoughts, it serves as assurance that such feelings can occur. In turn, the person will tell us about their problems more openly.)
How can we create awareness about suicidal thoughts?
In India, only a single day is observed as suicide prevention day. This makes it crucial to spread awareness.
Aarathi went on to say that like Women’s Web is spreading awareness about depression and suicide, it is important to provide information to a large range of people. Similar to how people are aware about symptoms of PCOS, diabetes or breast cancer, people must be made aware about symptoms of mental disease too.
Should the government include mental health checks in the regular health check-ups?
Recently, India began its first mental health helpline. However, this is not enough.
Expressing her thoughts on this, Aarathi said that there is still stigma around mental health and it is the responsibility of the government to work on this. Further, the reach and access to people is important. Currently, the number of clinical psychologists is a three digit figure. There has to be work around the training and education required to become a clinical psychologist.
“Currently, mental health professionals are present only in some metro cities and towns. It is important to have this service for people in both rural and urban areas. Further, the service must be made economical and accessible for everyone. All these things have been mentioned and ensured in the Mental Health Act. However, there is very little on-ground action and accessibility. Thus, the government must work on access insurance and financial ground in the case of mental health.”
While headlines about suicide have become common, it is now time to put a stop to them. It is important to understand that mental health is a big part of our overall well-being. During the pandemic, along with our physical health, taking care of our mental health is also very important. They are both intimately connected. If our mental health is not kept in check, it may also ruin our physical health. Mental health has to stop being tabooed before it’s too late.
Translation by Shalabha Sarath, from the original in Hindi.
You can contact clinical psychologist Aarathi Selvan here:
Phone 9490708947, 8106864001, 7032562301
Address:6/3/1219/7/B Uma Nagar, Begumpet, St. No. 6, St. Francis Degree College, Hyderabad 500016
Images credit: Aarathi Selvan & Milada Vigerova on Unsplash
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