In honor of World Suicide Awareness Day, this article will address facts and topics related to suicide and South Asians.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every year about one million people kill themselves. The WHO also finds that suicide is the third leading cause of death among people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four worldwide. Among people age ten to twenty-four, suicide is the second leading cause of death, after road accidents. Suicide occurs within both genders, across all ages (even children younger than 10), across all cultures and ethnicities and across all geographical locations. Suicide can affect anyone.
India has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, with about 50% of Indian suicide victims being in their mid-20s or younger. Movies like Three Idiots have brought this issue to everyday conversations. However, the subject still seems to be taboo and there remain countless myths and misconceptions about suicide.
Some of the most common triggers for suicide in South Asians include excessive pressure for academic achievement, depression, physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse, feeling trapped in an unhappy family situation, and isolation due to immigration.
In April of last year, suicide became jarringly relevant to the South Asian community in the United States when the public became aware of several murder-suicides that had taken place. Questions arose as to how “such strong Indian families” could experience such a tragedy. Many neighbors and friends said that there were no signs and they never would have guessed that this family could be going through such hard times.
However, there are often warning signs when someone is contemplating suicide and those warning signs should be taken very seriously. In fact, about 80% of people who commit suicide have tried reaching out to someone to discuss their pain.
Here are some warning signs that a person may be suicidal:
1) Saying two or more of the following:
Life isn’t worth living
My family (or friends or significant other) would be better off without me
Don’t worry, I won’t be around to deal with that
You’ll be sorry when I’m gone
I won’t be in your way much longer
I just can’t deal with everything – life is too hard.
I won’t be a burden much longer
Nobody understands me
There’s nothing I can do to make it better
I’d be better off dead
I feel like there is no way out
2) Getting affairs in order (paying off debts, changing a will) in addition to the list above
3) Giving away articles of either personal or monetary value in addition to the list above
4) Showing signs of planning a suicide such as obtaining a weapon or writing a suicide note
5) Expressing hopelessness and helplessness
6) Feeling depressed
7) Having a history of prior suicide attempts
8 ) Risky-behavior (e.g. sudden increase in drug use including alcohol, driving recklessly, etc.)
9) Lacking interest in future plans.
People who commit suicide were not doing so to get attention or to make a point. Instead, they were feeling such strong pain and a sense of helplessness that they believed killing themselves was the only way to rid themselves of the pain. While South Asians tend to believe that people who commit suicide are selfish, many victims genuinely believe the world and their families would be better off without them.
It is important to reach out to anyone you notice exhibiting warning signs and ask if they are contemplating killing themselves. Contrary to popular belief, addressing the issue directly does not make it more likely that they attempt suicide. Discussing the issue openly is more likely to make them feel compassion and understanding from you and may even prevent them from acting on their desire to commit suicide.
If you think that someone is actively contemplating suicide by having a plan and means to carry out the plan (e.g. wanting to die and having bought 3 more bottles of asprin), do not leave them alone. Try to seek help immediately from their doctor or nearest hospital or dial 911. If possible, eliminate access to any means to carry out a plan (e.g. a gun, medication, knives, etc.)
Suicide is preventable and it begins with more awareness about the seriousness of the issue and being able to recognize when someone is crying out for help.
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