As suicide is such a common and serious problem, it is important to actively try and prevent it. Here is a list of things that can be done. Many of these suicide prevention strategies unfortunately depend largely on input from government or other organisations. This implies that we should take individual responsibility for our own and the people close to us’ mental wellbeing and safety.

General Strategies:

  •  Reduce lethal means. Make it harder for people to get hold of dangerous things. Put all medication, cleaning materials and poisons away.
  • Crises hotline. See the PDF below with a list of numbers I compiled that offer free services.
  • Social interventions. This is a big challenge in South Africa. This will include attempts to decrease domestic abuse and substance abuse, screening, and education in the community.
  • Media guidelines. We know that suicide behaviour is contagious, so the media should handle news about suicide in a sensitiver, non-sensationalized way. If you read something in the news that upset you, try to just let it go, and try not to read these types of articles in the future.
  • Some medication decreases the risk for suicide- it has been well documented that Lithium (Camcolit) reduces suicide risk. This is a medication that needs a prescription as well as regular monitoring (kidney and thyroid functions and levels), but treatment with Lithium can be life changing.
  • Counselling, especially using techniques such as DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) or CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy).
  • Risk assessments, screening and directly asking about suicidal ideation.
  • Manage underlying medical conditions. This is an important one, as 10% of patients with psychiatric disorders have a serious underlying medical problem.
  • Use and support organisations like Lifeline and SADAG (see below PDF)

And then there are some more specific guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Never judge someone (or yourself) if there is suicidal thoughts or behaviours. To think about suicide is a symptom of depression, which is seen as a medical condition. It is the same as someone suffering from high blood pressure, epilepsy or diabetes having a time when their symptoms are extremely severe.
  • Get help. See your GP if you do not have a psychologist or psychiatrist or look at the PDF below for useful numbers.
  • It is excruciatingly difficult for family members to live with someone who is chronically suicidal. It is impossible to provide a “suicide watch”. Watch Marsh Linehan’s video here to rather try creating a life worth living.
MARSHA LINEHAN – Going for a Life Worth Living
  • Try to teach your children to respect live. Restrict violent computer games.
  • Be attentive, compassionate, and non-judgemental in your relationships so that the people close to you will feel comfortable to share if they feel sad or hopeless.
  • Do not give up hope.

Dr Melane Van Zyl

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