We need to talk about suicide (but in the right way)

A friend of mine typed to me. She asked me if I had some material about suicide among students. Wished I could tell you that was due to curiosity, but it wasn’t. One of those things you never believe it’s going to happen to someone around you happened.

The 10th of September was the International Day for Suicide Prevention 2019. Talking about it is the best way to take part in it.

It’s been two years since I started to work on mental health and to use social media to talk about that. One of the things I experienced is that when you say you work on mental health, most of the time people wonder about it. Another thing I experienced is that when you talk about mental health, especially with young people, often you end up talking about suicide. One thing I realized, is that much more people we can guess truly feel like talking about it. Much more people want to talk about it. Much more people need to talk about it.

Let’s talk about it, then. Let’s start to get an overview of suicide.

According to the World Health Organization, every year about one million people commits suicide. The limitation of big numbers is that we don’t really feel them. We aren’t able to perceive them.

According to the World Health Organization, every day about three thousand people commit suicide. It’s probably more than the number of people you would be able to list as relatives, friends and acquaintances. Every day.

Worldwide, every 40 seconds, one person commits suicide. Since you started to read this article, a couple of people did. Before you will finish reading this article, a few more will be gone.

Suicide is the 10th cause of death in the USA, and it is the second or third cause of death among young people from most Western Countries. Moreover, for every completed suicide, we have about 20 attempts.

In the last 45 years, the suicide rate rose by 60%. The fact in the past suicide was often hidden due to cultural and religious reasons doesn’t explain this all.

Despite all this data, we can’t talk about suicide. We don’t talk about suicide.

In scientific literature, there are plenty of studies about what is called “Werther Effect”. The phenomenon took its name from the famous Goethe’s characters because, after the publication of his book, a rose in suicide was registered due to emulation.

Nevertheless, talking about suicide is not a problem. The real problem is talking about it like something spectacular. It is not a matter of contents, but it is definitely a matter of approach. Often people talk about suicide as a way to get rid of problems. After Robin Williams committed suicide, those from the Academy posted these words on Twitter:

“Now you are free.”

This is the problem.

Robin Williams is not free. He is dead.

He did not get free. He killed himself. And the difference is quite big.

“So, why if talking about it is fine, there is so much going on about Thirteen reasons why?”

Because it is exactly the same: make suicide spectacular is not the right way. It does not matter if the suicide is real or fictional. Celebrities like artists and fictional characters like those from movies and books are both taken as models by entire generations. It does not matter if the person exists or comes out from a script: words and behaviours from that person can deeply impact people, especially young people. Thirteen reasons why is about the suicide of a young high school teenager, and its impact on her acquaintances. A recently published study detected a rose by 28.9% in suicide among young Americans aged between 10 and 17 after the TV series was out. According to experts, the explanation can be found in the spectacular idea of suicide given by the TV series. In the last year, many Italian university students committed suicide. Many journals published articles about those facts well-describing all available details about the dynamic those students used to kill themselves. The World Health Organization published the guidelines to report news about this complicated topic.

1 – While giving info about suicide, always give info about suicide prevention (contacts, numbers, etc);

2 – Never spread around prejudice and myths about suicide;

3 – Never describe a place as “commonly use for suicide” and never give details about the place a person commit suicide, especially if the person was famous.

4 – Always write about how to handle suicidal thought and suicidal ideation, giving info about services for help-seeking;

5 – Never give excessive space and importance about news concerning suicide;

6 – Never use click-bait titles and never use the word suicide in the title;

6 – Never present suicide as an alternative to a problem, avoiding in any way to describe suicide as something spectacular;

7 – Never report explicitly the way used to commit suicide;

8 – Never share photos of the body, neither social media profiles of the person who suicided.

9 – Always use particular attention while talking about the suicide of a famous person;

10 – Always use particular attention while interviewing someone who knew or was somehow related to the person who suicided, because they are at higher risk to self-injure and suicide as well.

Talking about suicide in the wrong way may increase the risk of emulation. But we also know that talking correctly about it may have the opposite effect. A well-done report may become a tool to inform and raise awareness about suicide.

Informing about coping strategies to adverse life-events may protect from suicide. On the opposite side of the Werther’s Effect, we find the so-called “Papageno’s Effect”. The name finds its root in the Magic Flute of Mozart. After the loss of his beloved one, Papageno, close to killing himself, remembers alternatives and takes another path: he chooses life.

In a study published by King’s College in 2014, talking about suicide decreases suicidal ideation both among young people and adults. Asking people if they ever thought about suicide was associated with an improvement in mental health in the long term. These are the facts.

Admitting an experience with suicidal thoughts may be help-seeking. It may be a chance for dialogue, a chance for intervention.

Talking about it may be an effective strategy to free the person experiencing this from such a heavy burden. The problem is not when someone talks about suicide. The problem is when a person should but does not talk about it.

Talking about suicide may be the best thing we can do to avoid suicide to happen.

Fabio Porru

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Painting: De-pre-ssion, Eva Charkiewicz (from The Perspective Project)

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WHERE YOU CAN FIND HELP:

If you are in an emergency situation, call 118. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or emailjo@samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at http://www.befrienders.org.

In Italy, you can call “Telefono Amico” at 199 284 284 every day from 10:00 to 24:00, or Samaritans at 800 86 00 22, or 06 77208977 (from mobile phone) every day, from 13:00 to 22:00.

 


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