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Mental Health Awareness: Speaking about the unspeakable

According to the World Health Organisation close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year.

Suicide is not about wanting to die; it is about wanting to end one’s unbearable pain of despair, anxiety or depression. It’s about not being able to see a way out of a situation.

“The people around us are valuable, life is precious, and we must try to do everything in our power to stop people from making negative and irreversible decisions” says Nonhlanhla Dube of Boston City Campus & Business College.

People need to feel valued and loved. We can make a difference, showing them, “I believe in you,” - giving a person a sense of hope, that there is always a plan b, no matter how bad a situation may seem at the time. We can’t promise people everything will work out the way they want it to – but we can show them that there is another possibility, and we can try help someone in pain.

Nonhlanhla gives a few tips on how you can help them:

Pay close attention

If someone mentions that they are dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts – do not dismiss it as something they can handle on their own. Talking about their feelings means they are asking for help – even if they aren’t explicitly saying “Help me.”

Talk

Don’t sweep difficult subjects under the rug. If you are concerned that someone is considering suicide, openly ask them about it and talk about their feelings.

Listen

Sometimes a person who is thinking terrible thoughts just needs a friend to be a sounding board to express their fears, anger and despair.

Face it head-on

After you listen to them, ask them openly: “Are you thinking about suicide/ harming yourself?” Let them know you are there for them and that they are not alone.
“Keep in mind that while you can offer support, you can’t heal them. When you give advice, it should be to seek professional help from someone trained in this aspect of counselling.

Never hide it

If someone needs help, you have a responsibility to help them. Don’t agree to confidentiality.

We all want to be there for our friends when they need us, but what should we do if they open up to us about their mental health struggles? Laura, 17, shares her tips.

  • Assess whether you are mentally stable enough to support them
  • Listen to them
  • Ask what they would like from you
  • Talk to an adult
  • Check up on them

Nonhlanhla continues saying she understands that we all are dealing with our own issues. “It's okay if you can't always be there for your friends. We all have our own life challenges and if you are currently struggling with your mental health, anxiety or a huge workload – it’s completely understandable that you cannot be drained by those of a friend as well. However, “don’t simply ignore them” she says.
“Alert a family member or college lecturer to take up the issue. Contact professional organisations to assist such as Lifeline (011715 2000) or SADAG (South African Depression and Anxiety Group) on 0800 567 567 (Suicide Crisis Line) or 011 234 4837 (Mental Health Line).”

“Look for warning signs and report on them if you feel things are out of the ordinary”. These include:

  • Withdrawal
  • Depression, tearfulness, no appetite
  • Reliance on alcohol or even caffeine drinks to get through the day
  • Friend not taking calls, not responding to messages, missing class/assessments or exams
  • Mentioning key words that include self-harm, failure or fear of disappointing parents etc

“While suicide is often a taboo subject, we need to bring it into the open to help heal those in need. Being aware of warning signs can help us take the necessary action wherever we can.

Remember, you need support during this difficult time too. Do your best by providing the necessary support, by being there, and referring to professional help when you feel that’s the best option,” concludes Nonhlanhla.

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