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Recently, the word suicide constantly grabs the headlines. If you are familiar with the entertainment news, then I am sure that you had heard or knew that one of the most famous singers in Hong Kong, Leslie Cheung committed suicide. He jumped down from one of the hotels in Hong Kong on April Fools’ Day this year. No one expected that he will commit suicide on that day. I think most of his fans or even people who heard his name before felt so shocked and sad about the news. Some of his close relatives and friends even felt depressed.

What is suicide? Suicide is killing oneself intentionally. The World Health Organization (WHO) said that over 90% of suicide victims suffer from mental problem. In China, 37% of suicidal people choose killing themselves to escape daily pressure or disappointments. According to research, suicide ranks as the eighth leading cause of death in the United States and the third leading cause of deaths among young people in the 15 to 24-age range. I think this is an issue that we shouldn’t ignore.

Why do young people commit suicide? There are no definitive answers for why adolescents attempt and complete suicide although there is general agreement that youth who take their own lives feel hopeless about their situation and believe it will never change. Suicide seems to be a response to seemingly intolerable pain. It appears a complex set of factors interact with the youth’s biological, emotional, intellectual and social stages of development. Some factors that contribute to suicide are:

Biological: Depression due to chemical imbalance; physical illness; physical disability; learning disability; chemical changes during puberty; or physical dependency on drugs or alcohol.

Emotional: Sadness; stress; impulsive behaviour; a sense of powerlessness; loss; grief; loneliness; low self-esteem; anger or rage; guilt; hopelessness; a sense of being overwhelmed; anxiety; confusion about sexual identity/orientation; emotional dependency on chemical substances.

Intellectual: Inability to communicate feelings; perfectionism; pressure to achieve or perform; self-criticism; unrealistic view of death; revenge; exaggeration of faults.

Social: Isolation; withdrawal; friendlessness; lack of social skills; unpopularity; feelings of not belonging; embarrassment before peers; labelled as ‘crazy’, ‘stupid’, or ‘different’, in trouble at home or school.

According to research, people who consider taking their lives in response to stressful events have poorer problem solving skills than those who do not consider suicide. People who consider suicide in times of stress may be less able to find alternatives ways of coping with the stress they face.

What should we do if we meet with someone who is contemplating suicide? Can we stop him/her? Normally, we will feel bewildered and frightened, as if a great burden has been placed on our shoulders. It has. If someone confides suicidal thoughts to us, our goal should be to persuade him or her to see a professional. We should also try to get the advice of a professional ourselves as soon as we can. But if the suicidal person declines to talk to another person and we sense we can’t break away for such a conference, there is something we can do. These are:
  • Be sympathetic. Show that we care how troubled the person is. Don’t say something like, “You’re just being silly”, “Why do you always have so many problems?”
  • Suggest that means other than suicide can be discovered, and to work out the person’s problems, even if they are not apparent at the time. Suicidal people can usually see only two solutions to their problems – either suicide or some kind of magical solution. Professionals try to broaden the available alternatives of people who are suicidal.
  • Inquire as to how the person expects to commit suicide. People with explicit methods and who also possess the means are at greater risk.
  • Propose that the person accompany you to consult a professional right now. Many organizations have hot lines that you or the suicidal individuals can call. For example: The Befrienders, 03-79568144.
  • Don’t say something like “You’re talking crazy”. Such comments are degrading and injurious to the individual’s self esteem. Don’t press the suicidal person to contact specific people, such as parents or teachers. Conflict with them may have given rise to the suicidal thoughts.

We often respond to news of a suicide with disbelief or guilt that we fail to pick up signs of the impending act. There is no way for us to predict when a person will attempt suicide but there is a way for us to pick up the signals of a person who will attempt suicide. People who commit suicide tend to signal their intentions, often quite explicitly, such as by telling others about their suicidal thoughts. According to research, 90% of the people who committed suicide had left clear cues, such as disposing of their possessions. People contemplating suicide may also suddenly try to sort out their affairs, as in drafting a will or buying a cemetery plot. When troubled people decide to commit suicide, they may seem to be suddenly at peace; they feel relieved of having to contend with life problems. This sudden calm may be misinterpreted as a sign of hope. For every five who complete suicide, four have made one or more previous attempts.

The prediction of suicide is not an exact exercise, even for experienced professionals. For all of us, we can contribute to society to prevent suicide among others. What we can do right now is we should not be stingy of showing people that care.

Lim Siow Yen
Resource Development Officer, FFPAM

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