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Suicide Prevention: Five key steps to create a preventive approach

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By Dr Samir Parikh

With the number of incidents of suicides coming to light in the past few years, it almost seems a vain attempt to reiterate the growing prevalence as well as recognition of the importance of such concerns. However, the point to keep in mind here is not the focus on the growing prevalence rate of suicides but instead to shift the focus to creating an actual preventive approach to suicides. Undoubtedly, the first step towards creating a preventive approach to suicides is to lay the foundation stone, by creating an awareness about mental illnesses. Despite of a lot of such reports coming to light, there are still a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding mental health, especially suicides, which tend to increase the stigma attached to even the mention of such a word.

Suicide Prevention: Creating awareness about mental health

With people hesitating to bring up the topic of a suicide, fearing that it would plant the idea in people’s mind, and with people not knowing the actual warning signs which could indicate that an individual might be contemplating suicide, there is a huge gap to be bridged. In fact, one of the most significant aspects of this awareness needs to focus on the possibility of actually preventing a suicide, as most individuals may not be aware of such a possibility in itself. Therefore, we need to create an awareness to bust myths, and to help spread education and information about the actual behavioural signs to be on the lookout for, to help individuals identify as well as prevent suicides, or even help in the earliest interventions possible.

Suicide Prevention: De-stigmatization of mental health

Along with the creation of such awareness, focus on the de-stigmatization of mental health needs to be worked upon hand-in-hand. Given the extent of the stigma and myths shrouding mental health in our country, removing the hesitation and reluctancy, and fears of shame and guilt being associated with suicides needs to be eradicated from its roots within the society. The simplest and most effective approach towards achieving such a vision could simply be having more and more conversations pertaining to mental health, with an instillment of compassion, empathy and sensitivity.

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Simply such an initiative in itself, by all of us, be it teachers, parents, educators, leaders, the media, or any other role models; in fact, all of us put together could put social media platforms to an optimum use to help work towards such conversations destigmatizing mental health in the country.

Suicide Prevention: Encouraging Help-Seeking Behaviour

As a consequence, such efforts are likely to help individuals overcome their fears and hesitations and begin to talk about their distress. Being open to reaching out for help, be it of a friend, a peer, a family member, a colleague, or even a professional, is the prerequisite to ensure a prevention of suicides in our country.

The creation of awareness and sensitivity also needs to infiltrate not just to professionals, but all stakeholders as well as gatekeepers, especially when it comes to the recognition of and vigilance towards the early warning signs of suicidal ideation. This means, all front line workers, especially for those working with children and adolescents, need to be educated as well as sensitized about the signs, be trained on how to respond if someone reaches out, and to help direct them to reach out to a mental health professional for support and interventions in a timely manner.

Suicide Prevention Helpline Numbers

The establishment of helpline numbers is another such beneficial initiative which could help in making the support of mental health experts accessible as well as available to an increased outreach within the community. Especially in the case of preventing suicides, such a helpline number could help in ensuring that there is someone to offer support and guidance in times of a crisis situation, especially considering the great gap in the number of experts required in our country as opposed to the increasing prevalence of mental health concerns.

Suicide Prevention is Our Collectivistic Responsibility

Last but not the least, it is our collective responsibility as a society at large to work towards the creation of a robust suicide prevention policy, be it school-wide policies, college or university-wide policies, for organizations or communities, or for the country at large. And to sustain such efforts, the support of all stakeholders, the media, role models as well as responsible adults of the society to help create a sensitized awareness along with working towards de-stigmatization of mental health will ensure a preventive approach towards suicides being implemented at a cross-sectional level.

(Dr. Samir Parekh is Director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare. Views expressed are personal.)