This World Suicide Prevention Day, Lincoln Corners Karachi collaborated with Parwaresh, an organisation connecting and equipping the important triangle of – educational/mental health/counseling faculty with teenagers/kids and parents, to bring a panel of educators, mental health specialist and civil society members to talk about suicide prevention.

In a group conversation organised by Lincoln Corners aimed to save young people from suicidal thoughts, people of all ages from diverse backgrounds partook in the interactive session. The session was curated with focus on understanding why young people feel suicidal, what can parents and educators do to help them, how they can spot if their loved one is feeling suicidal and whom they can reach out to.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people. That’s more than all natural causes combined. A teen or young adult dies by suicide every hour and a half. And for every death, there are 15–25 times as many attempts.

What’s so sad is that this loss of life is preventable. Suicidal crises pass, and treatment is available that can reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviour. So how do you know if someone is at risk? What should you do if you think someone may be having suicidal thoughts? These are a few questions that the group discussion covered.

What are the suicide warning signs?

The panelists were asked about the suicidal signs to look out for to which one of the panelists, Abdul Basit Khawaja answered that, “I have seen hopelessness turn into suicide.” According to Abdul, a person experiencing suicidal feelings may seem lonely, disconnected, struggling with low self-esteem, restless, even his sleep patterns and normal routine might seem changed. According to him, these feelings can get in the way of everything else – so much that the person might find it hard to believe that they can feel better. But they can, whatever the problem is.

How strong is the link between bullying in children and suicide?

According to the panelist Fatima Hussain, “Bullying and suicide are clearly linked, but that does not only mean that it would cause kids to take their lives. It can also make them want to hurt themselves and so, they often turn to self-harm. Such children feel like they are not part of the bigger community.”

Another panelist, Mehwish says that she used to take a round of the school during recess to see which child was sitting alone. By that, she would evaluate that that child might either have been bullied or made to be felt left out. That’s when she would intervene and engage with them in a conversation to see further signs of suicidal feelings.

Is there enough support available for suicide prevention counselling in Pakistan?

According to Abdul, “I don’t think enough has been done in the public sector. There are counselors available in private schools but there aren’t any available in public schools.”

While Fatima differs and says, “There are counselors in some private schools but even they don’t know what to do once they detect suicidal behaviour. They need proper and advanced training.” Fatima tells that she was part of a project that dealt with developing empathy and the art of listening better among teachers. She believes that such projects can help teachers and counselors better understand children and their suicidal feelings.

The takeaway

Feeling suicidal usually means that someone is hopeless. They may feel like no one can help. They may be out of better options for escaping feelings or situations that are unbearable and painful. But it’s the job of their family and friends to look out for the warning signs and once they detect those signs they should make sure that the person in question knows that they can feel better again someday, and a trusted adult will get them the help they need.

How to support a loved one who is feeling suicidal?

• Listen without judgement, stay calm and don’t overreact.

• Be aware it’s not your job to take away the pain or make it better. All you can do is be there, even if you don’t know what to say.

• Encourage them to open up and help them identify a trusted adult (such as a teacher) they could talk to and who can help them find support. Some young people may be reluctant to talk to a parent in case they ‘freak out’ or because the parent him/herself suffers from mental health problems.

• Help them build up a wider support network so they know who to contact 24/7 if they’re struggling.

Mehwish says, “Engage – stay in contact with your friend or family member suffering from feeling of suicide. Talk directly to them. It’s okay to use the term ‘suicide’ in front of them. Some people believe that talking about suicide with a suicidal person would trigger that feeling more but that’s not true. In fact, they would feel more comfortable opening up to you.” “Just remember, do not school them. Do not make them feel guilty about feeling that way,” she continues.