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Suicide and Suicide Prevention

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

• Introduction

• What is Suicide?

• Signs of a Person at risk of Suicide

• Common misconceptions about Suicide

• Suicide Prevention

• Conclusion


Close to 800 000 people die by suicide every year. Furthermore, for each suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts. Suicides and suicide attempts have a ripple effect that impacts families, friends, colleagues, communities and societies. According to the World Health Organization in a 2019 report, Nigeria has the highest suicide rates in Africa and the sixth globally. Today, suicide is a rising global issue and there are speculations on the increase of suicidal ideations and attempts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Suicides are preventable and much can be done to prevent suicide at individual, community and national levels.


Suicide is the act of intentionally causing harm to oneself with the aim to cause death. Suicide is often associated with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc but it could also be a result of adverse economic or social circumstances. The thought to commit suicide usually precedes the act which leads us to the term "Suicidal Ideation". Suicidal Ideation is the thinking of killing oneself and planning methods to do so. Suicide ideation can be divided into the following:

1. Passive Suicidal Ideation

2. Active Suicidal Ideation

Passive Suicidal Ideation

This simply involves wishing death on oneself without any plans to carry out the act. This includes thoughts such as wishing one died in their sleep, choke on their food, or being involved in an accident. Passive suicidal ideation could become active suicidal ideation at any time.

Active Suicidal Ideation

Active suicidal ideation is not only thinking about suicide but includes having a method, plan, and intent to kill oneself.


Have you ever been around a friend or family member that attempted suicide and asked yourself the question" How did I not notice?". Please take note that a suicidal person may give no indication or may show no sign. However, most people who attempt suicide give indications prior to the act.

A major sign is an individual talking about killing him/herself or writing about it. Also when someone talks or writes constantly about death or dying, this could be an indication that they are having thoughts of harming themselves. Another indication is that the person begins to stockpile things with which he/she wants to cause his/her own death e.g. medications, chemicals, etc.

Acute episodes of mental disorders like bipolar disorder, depression, and severe anxiety may predispose an individual to commit suicide. Other signs are an increase in substance abuse, feeling of hopelessness, isolating self from friends and family, neglect of hygiene and increased mood swings. A sudden calmness and bout of happiness after a major depressive episode could be as a result of a decision to carry out a suicidal plan.

A previous attempt at suicide is perhaps the most important risk factor, as someone that has attempted suicide and failed before is more likely to try again.


1. Only people with mental illness are suicidal. Suicidal behaviour indicates deep unhappiness but not necessarily a mental disorder. Many people living with mental disorders are not affected by suicidal behaviour, and not all people who take their own lives have a mental disorder.

2. People that announce their intent for suicide don't really do it. People who talk about suicide may be reaching out for help or support.  A significant number of people contemplating suicide are experiencing anxiety, depression and hopelessness and may feel that there is no other option

3. Most suicides occur suddenly. The majority of suicides have been preceded by warning signs, whether verbal or behavioural. Of course, there are some suicides that occur without warning. But it is important to understand what the warning signs are and look out for them.

4. Talking to someone about suicide can give them the idea to commit the act. Given the widespread stigma around suicide, most people who are contemplating suicide do not know who to speak to. Rather than encouraging suicidal behaviour, talking openly can give an individual other options or the time to rethink his/her decision, thereby preventing suicide.

5. People that talk about committing suicide on social media are only doing it for the attention. No threat of suicide should ever be taken lightly. Although some people who talk about committing suicide on social media do not truly mean to hurt themselves, one can never truly know; so these suicidal comments on social media should be taken seriously and such persons should be referred for professional help.


Suicide prevention efforts require coordination and collaboration among multiple sectors of society, both public and private, including both health and non-health sectors such as education, labour, agriculture, business, justice, law, defence, politics and the media.

The following are ways by which you can prevent suicide whether for personal use or for an individual:

1. Speak out

If you suspect that someone you know is contemplating suicide, one way to be sure is to ask. Showing that you care is a sure way to get the information. Don't argue with the person or act shocked. Just listen and show that you care. If your fears are confirmed, please refer the person to professionals. You could also go the extra mile by helping them book the appointment and accompanying them.

2. Means restriction

Restricting access to the means of suicide is a key element of suicide prevention efforts. Remove all harmful objects like sharp objects, pills that can be used in overdose, poisonous substances and other weapons that may be used for suicide and stash them in locked drawers/cupboards or in safe places where they are not readily accessible.

3. Companionship

Stay with the person if suicide is imminent while you wait for help from others. Companionship at that point staves off the act. Offer to do activities with the person that will keep the individual busy. Invite the person on outings and encourage participation in fun activities. And get them to seek professional help if there is an imminent of carrying out a suicidal act.

4. Lifestyle Changes

These involve exercise, healthy eating habits, good personal hygiene and good sleep. Self-care should be optimally practiced as these have been shown to improve the overall quality of life. Also, help the individual get self-help books to read.

5. Therapy and Medication

Help and encourage the person to seek professional help. Prompt treatment should be sought for people showing signs of mental disorders, and individuals with diagnosed mental illnesses should be encouraged to see their therapists regularly and adhere to the prescribed treatment regimen. You could offer to take the person to the psychiatric clinic or get a therapist to address the underlying causes of the suicidal ideation.


Suicide is an important cause of death across the lifespan. In addition to the impact on individuals who attempt and die from suicide, the powerful ripple effect that suicide has on families, friends, communities and countries is far-reaching. Therefore, suicide prevention is a task that we all need to be aware of and be able to perform at the most basic form.


world Health Organization (2014) Preventing Suicide: A global imperative. Assesses on the 6th of September, 2020 from;jsessionid=179A209E254B4B05B9475F3FFB6496B5?sequence=8

Zawn Villines (2015). Raising Awareness on World Suicide Prevention Day. Assessed on the 6th of September, 2020 from

Suicide (2019). Assessed on the 6th of September, 2020 from

Melinda Smith, M.A. et al (2019). Suicide Prevention. Accessed on the 6th of September, 2020 from

Marcia Purse (2020). What Is Suicidal Ideation?. Accessed on 6th of September, 2020 from

David V. Sheehan et al (2014). Current Assessment and Classification of Suicidal Phenomena using the FDA 2012 Draft Guidance Document on Suicide Assessment: A Critical Review. Accessed on 6th of September, 2020 from

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