Approximately 800 000 people die every year, this is one person every 40 seconds. It’s a global phenomenon occurring throughout the lifespan sparing neither the young nor old.
According to the world health organization (WHO), for every adult who died of suicide, there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide. Alarming? Yes, and very disturbing indeed.
Globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Heart wrecking it is considering this is the most energetic and productive group in a country’s populace. What is disturbing our young souls to the point of contemplating taking away their precious life? This is a ticking time bomb that spells doom to the future of our country and must be dealt with mercilessly.
Suicide is the act of deliberately taking away one’s own life. It may be through various ways, for example, shooting, hanging, using sharps to cause excessive bleeding and many others. As a nurse, it’s very important to understand the psychological processes that underlie suicidal thoughts and the factors that can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair among patients and people around us.
But what are these factors that come into play for a person to get to that point where they disregard their lives and importance to the extent of them killing themselves? Some include social, psychological and cultural factors that can interact leading a person to have suicidal thoughts or behavior.
The stigma associated with mental health or substance abuse, experiences of trauma, discrimination or abuse, relationship breakdown, and financial losses are some of the risk factors that can negatively influence a person to commit suicide just to name but a few.
Identifying a suicidal person may be an uphill task sometimes. One has to be conversant with the various signs that are indications of someone about to attempt suicide.
Withdrawal; someone becomes isolated all of a sudden, loses interest in activities they earlier on love is an indication. A person wants to stay alone keeping to themselves most of the time and not interested in people anymore, both family and friends. Watch out!
A person portraying desperation. Constant complaints of how unbearable life has become, how people do not love them, how they are not considered valuable and feeling like they are a burden to others.
Habitual change whereby a person maybe was not a drunkard but all of a sudden starts drinking heavily or abusing a drug, for example, marijuana. This might be a way of drowning the stress and the negative feelings which bring about desperation leading to suicide.
Reckless acts that put one’s life at risk is an indication of a suicidal person. A person trying to harm themselves in various ways like cutting their bodies, driving while drunk or even having attempted suicide in other ways.
Mood swings are imminent in suicidal people. Often, they may be depressed, anxious, sad or angry, irritable and aggressive. As a nurse being close to the person will be important to detect such changes as you know their normal moods and behavior.
Having identified all these signs, how can we chip in to avert this crisis? First, it’s overly important to take these suicide warnings seriously, your involvement and support may help save a life.
As a nurse how do you tell that a certain person is a high-risk suicide candidate? This requires a careful suicide risk assessment process. So, let’s see how you will do it.
Good communication skills are vital to establishing rapport with the person, validate their feelings and discuss issues with them in an empathetic way. Anytime you as a nurse talk about suicide to someone, it discourages them from it as mostly, it’s a private and highly secretive action. Engaging them on the topic makes them open up to you and reassure them that they have someone who can listen to them and help them solve their problems.
Gather information from them on their plans. Preparations such as writing a will, giving away personal possessions or saying goodbye to loved ones. Ask them directly if they are planning to commit suicide, if yes, when? Where? And how? A patient may be planning to take an overdose of some drugs as a way of committing suicide. In the talk therapy, they may divulge such information helping you act accordingly, for example, block access to such drugs by the patient.
Get more information from family, friends, guardians, caregivers or medical records. A patient/ person is more likely to divulge suicidal thoughts and plans to a fellow patient than to a professional. Engaging these other parties will help gauge the level of risk and determine appropriate actions.
The thorough assessment follows where a patient is engaged further deeply to get more information. This can be done verbally or via a well-structured questionnaire that is used as a suicide assessment tool that indicates the level of suicide risk in a patient depending on their responses
Follow up assessment is crucial whereby a comprehensive mental health status examination and psychiatric assessment particularly for a person presenting after a suicide attempt.
Upon identifying a suicidal person as a nurse, what’s next? How do you handle this?
Talk about it, engage them about it but in a cunning way. Let it not be a confrontation, your approach matters a lot. It may avert or accelerate the suicide process.
Do it in a relaxed manner and avoid being judgmental as this will make them withhold information from you. Discussing it will make the person not act on their feelings.
Listen to them to understand what they are going through or what is driving them to suicide, they need this most, so listen and listen carefully. This will give you clues that will help identify the main problem.
By doing the above two things, the patient has confidence in you and considers you their confidant. Ensure you observe confidentiality with the information they give as careless dissemination will just crush their already weak ego.
Regularly check on them and show affection towards them. Show interest in them and always want to know about their wellbeing. This gives them a reason to hold on. It’s worth and very rewarding for saving a life.
Finally, sensitize them on the various helplines where they can get help. These include counseling services in government health facilities and NGOs like befrienders Kenya, love matters Africa just to mention a few.
No one has to die from suicide. Life is sacred. SAVE A LIFE TODAY
Makau J. Mwendwa