Reading warning signs to save a life

Reading warning signs to save a life

Identifying if a person is on the edge and in need of professional help is key to suicide prevention

Different people react to stress and trauma differently, but when it ends in suicide, it can be devastating for that person’s family and friends, who are left with an overwhelming sense of regret, guilt, helplessness, confusion and even anger. Was there a sign or symptom that they failed to read? Could they have done something to prevent it? For the bereaved, there are many questions that arise.

Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health has never been more important, and the focus is on people’s role in preventing suicide. And the theme of this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10) calls for just that — ‘Creating hope through action’.

Distress calls

Trained volunteers of Hyderabad-based NGO Roshni, which provides free emotional support to people battling depression between 11 am and 9 pm daily, suicidal thoughts or any crisis in their lives, attend 45-50 distress calls every day, giving them hope of a better tomorrow.

Director of the Roshni, Ushasree categorises signs of depression as changes in three aspects — physical, emotional and cognitive.

She said even a lay person can identify the symptoms and extend help to the person in distress. “Family and friends are often the first line of defence in the fight against depression. Hence, it is important to understand the signs and symptoms,” she says.

Spot the changes

The physical changes include contrasting signs such as sleeping too little or too much, lack of appetite or overeating, sudden loss or gain in body weight, and/or excessive fatigue. Emotional changes, on the other hand, include persistent sadness or unhappiness, lack of interest or concentration, chronic anxiety, low self-esteem and/or uncontrollable anger.

Finally, cognitive changes cover feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness, excessive guilt, suicidal thoughts, withdrawing or feeling isolated, displaying extreme mood swings, substance abuse, talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself, looking for a way to kill oneself such as searching online or obtaining a weapon or collecting pills etc.

Power of empathy

“If a person has four or more of the symptoms for more than two weeks, it is recommended to consult a mental health professional. If one recognises any or few of the symptoms in their loved ones, they can help by extending unconditional love and support, paying undivided attention and listening to them without judgement. Remember never to leave them alone, and instead, talk to them and encourage them to express their feelings and emotions, all the while showing empathy and compassion,” Ms Ushasree suggests.

The categories of calls that the Roshni volunteers receive are wide-ranging — relationship trouble, love failure, financial issues, mental health illness or depression, and even those related to education.

Some of the calls are made by family members or friends of the person in distress, and some are made to express gratitude.

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