Sunday, January 16, 2022

How do you talk someone out of suicide?

It is a lazy Tuesday evening after what had been an eventful independence holiday that had almost sucked the life out of me.

I am watching television half-heartedly and there is a Hollywood movie, ‘’Man on a Ledge’, playing. In the movie, a man is standing on the ledge at the top of a multi-storey building, threatening to jump to his death.

The police dispatch a female police psychologist to attempt to dissuade from leaping off the ledge.

Unfortunately, owing to the exertions of an eventful long weekend, I must have dozed off midway through the rescue process.

Little did I know just a few hours later (around midnight), I would be playing the role of the police psychologist.

I rued not having watched the movie to the end, for no doubt, it would have come in handy in the predicament I faced.

Only this time, the suicidal person is a hysterical young woman, Lerato* on the other end of the cell phone line.

A series of heated altercations following a secret revealed by a mutual friend had now taken a new twist.

Lerato had demanded to know the name of the source who revealed the secret and she was not taking no for an answer.

Mind you, unlike the police psychologist in the movie, my subject is not here with me. I have to do all the negotiating over the phone.

“It would give me some sense of closure. I know you don’t trust me at all but I just need to know. I beg you Thobo, my energy is draining away and today no one can save me but you. My mother saved me last night but she’s not here tonight. I beg you to save my life,” read her WhatsApp message.

It was a catch 22 situation. As desperate as she was to know who sold her out, I knew the revelation would be even more devastating.

“As a journalist,” I tried to reason, “revealing a source’s name goes against my ethics. It is one of the cardinal sins of our profession. I try to apply the same thing in my personal life and what you ask of me is not fair.”

But she was having none of it.

“So, is that all you care about,” she asked, “your friend and your journalism?”

To which I advised her to be strong and get over it. Her response was nothing I could have ever anticipated or prepared for.

“It’s too late to try and be strong now,” Lerato said, “I have already done it.”

Despite my follow up response questioning what she meant, that would be her last message of the night. My attempts to call proved futile.

I had to spend the rest of the night contemplating what she could have overdosed on, and what exactly the suicide note would entail.

Just how do you convince someone not to take their own life? Social commentator and counsellor, Ntombi Setshwaelo, has dealt with many such cases.

“The most fundamental thing is not to dictate to them,” Setshwaelo says. “They shouldn’t feel you are imposing your views on them.”

She says some people usually get suicidal when they are in a deep place of despair, when their sense of self-worth is at its lowest.

This leads to a point where they feel like there is no other way out but to take their own life.

“At that point they are just focused on ending their misery and death seems to be the best option,” Setshwaelo says.

She says some people use suicide threats as a cry for help. “When they feel like they are not being attended to and or things are not working out for them they resort to suicide threats and in some cases they actually do end up carrying it out.”

Grief, she says, is also one of the most common causes of suicide. She says it happens when someone is experiencing such intense feelings of grief they feel they cannot get out of.

“You have to understand that when someone is experiencing such a feeling they are no longer thinking rationally.”

She says when dealing with such a person the best way is to provide alternative options and reassurance that there is actually hope. It also helps, she says, to point the person in the right direction where they can get professional assistance.

Setshwaelo attributes the high cases of suicide to the absence of proper initiation institutions like the traditional bogwera and bojale (initiation schools).

She says these institutions help to instil a sense of responsibility, self-worth and strong character that is necessary for survival.

Botswana Police Deputy Public Relations Officer, Dipheko Motube, has been quoted as saying women lead in suicide attempt cases. He said their statistics had shown that women are more suicidal than men.

“They are usually found in critical conditions that need immediate doctor care because the methods they use to commit suicide do not usually kill them right away,” Motube had said.

He said the reasons they give after they recover are mostly of relationships gone awry, difficulty in coping with frustrations of life, while others cannot accept their health status. He advised people to seek professional help or talk to someone about their issues.

“Suicide is the dumbest possible way of getting revenge because the people you want to strike back at are the very same folks who won’t even remember you a week after you are gone. And the people you want to spare most ÔÇô the people who love you ÔÇô are the ones who will have to live with the pain of your suicide for the rest of their lives,” says Stanley Hauerwas.

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