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Working together to prevent suicide

Karyl T POWELL-BOOTH

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

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Every 40 seconds someone dies by suicide globally. Today, September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. The focus usually is on completed suicides and suicide attempts; however, it is important that we understand a related and growing phenomenon — that of self-harm.


Self-harm refers to any behaviour someone knowingly does to themselves to cause hurt or injury without the intention to die.

Why people self-harm


Some people say that this is a physical way of coping with psychological or emotional pain that they find brings them some relief. Some find these acts as empowering and the only means of being in control of situations which they may find to be overwhelming or distressing.
The situations may occur as a result of problems at home, such as exposure to violence, trauma, bullying, loss of a loved one, coming to terms with sexuality, difficulties in relationships, or mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Global statistics


Persons who self-harm may be of any age group; however, it is a behaviour that usually begins during adolescence. It is estimated that approximately 10 per cent of young people engage in some form of self-harm at least once during their lifetime. Local trends also indicate an increase in the incidence of self-harm. For some, this behaviour disappears during adulthood, but for others, it may remain throughout their lifetime.


Self-harm is linked to a higher risk of suicide; however, most persons who self-harm do not want to end their lives. There is the myth that persons who self-harm are merely “seeking attention”. Instead, they want to end their pain. It is a cry for help.


Symptoms may include a combination of any of the following:


• unexplained cuts, bruises or cigarette burns, usually on wrists, arms, thighs or chest;
• keeping themselves covered inappropriately, e.g. in hot weather wearing long sleeves;
• expressing a wish to punish themselves or end it all;
• becoming withdrawn and avoiding interacting with others;
• low self-esteem;
• pulling out their hair, deliberately;
• low or depressed mood, tearfulness or a lack of motivation or interest in anything;
• aggressive behaviour;
• anxiety;
• refusal to eat; and
• other unexplained injuries

What to do if you suspect that someone has self-harmed


Ask! It is a myth that if you ask someone if they are considering or have ever self-harmed this will put ideas in their heads. To the contrary, the evidence suggests that people who may be contemplating self-harm, when asked, find it useful to talk about it and decide not to engage in the behaviour because they realise that because someone asked, it shows that someone cares.
Remove the means: If the person uses implements for cutting, or over-the counter medication for example, ensure that these are removed from their environment as far as is possible.
Have frequent contact: Call or message the individual frequently during the daytime and encourage them to engage with you in a conversation whether via telephone, face-to-face or via text messages.


Provide a safe, non-threatening environment: Listen to them, empathise, and simply try to provide as much social support for them as possible by being there for them. It is critical that we not be judgemental of them or shun them as this will only make the situation worse. The best we can do for them is to show that we care, and that they are loved. Many persons can't relate to this behaviour and say very hurtful things to or about such persons. This is unhelpful.
Seek help from a trained professional: There are numerous persons and institutions that can provide varying levels of help for individuals in emotional distress.

Where to go for help?


These include a medical doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, teacher, guidance counsellor, pastor, trusted friend, adult, co-worker, peer counsellor. Choose Life International provides counselling and may be contacted or RISE Life Management Services

Karyl T Powell-Booth is a lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica as well as a doctoral candidate focusing on suicide and self-harm in Jamaica at the University of Glasgow. Send comments to the Observer or powellboothkaryl@gmail.com; twitter: @kapow7000.


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