World Suicide Prevention Day: Suicidal thoughts: How to recognize them - and what helps those affected

Every 57 minutes someone in Germany dies by suicide.

World Suicide Prevention Day: Suicidal thoughts: How to recognize them - and what helps those affected

Every 57 minutes someone in Germany dies by suicide. That's more than 9,000 people a year. This means that more people die from suicide than from traffic accidents, illegal drugs and violent crimes combined. There are between 100,000 and 150,000 suicide attempts in Germany every year, and the suicide rate worldwide is estimated at around 700,000 people.

These are all sobering numbers. Suicide has been one of the main causes of death among young people for decades. Nevertheless, we as a society have not yet managed to take effective countermeasures.

This is precisely why the World Health Organization (WHO) designated September 10 as World Suicide Prevention Day 19 years ago. Since then, a major awareness campaign has been held on this day every year.

In this case, however, one day a year is not nearly enough, as Amelie Schwierholz, project manager of the "Friends for Life" association, told Stern: "The most important thing for suicide prevention is to finally break the stigma of mental illness."

Schools in particular are an important starting point for this. "There is already regular education about alcohol and drugs there, but what happens to us when our psyche suffers and how to deal with it is not taught to the children and young people," says the expert.

It is not for nothing that the "Friends for Life" association has been educating young people and young adults about mental health, depression and suicide since 2001. The basic thesis: Suicide prevention is possible by providing information about warning signals, offers of help and therapy options.

Also Prof. Dr. Barbara Schneider, chief physician at the LVR Clinic in Cologne and head of the National Suicide Prevention Program for Germany (NaSPro) is working intensively on the question of how to reduce the suicide rate. "Beyond universal suicide prevention, we need a specific approach to risk groups and appropriate follow-up care for people who have already attempted suicide."

Although these measures already exist throughout Germany, they do not always have the desired effect: According to a study led by psychology professor Tobias Teismann, which was published in the "Bundesgesundheitsblatt Gesundheitsforschung", 22.4 percent of those affected attempt suicide again within five years.

According to the data, whether the suicide attempt is successful also depends on gender. According to the Federal Statistical Office, 75 percent of suicides are committed by men, but the number of suicide attempts is significantly higher among women. "One reason for this is that men resort to harder methods when attempting suicide and are therefore less likely to be rescued," explains Amelie Schwierholz.

Thoughts of suicide are not uncommon. According to several surveys, around 70 to 80 percent of all Germans have thought about taking their own life. But: "The intensive confrontation with life and death does not yet represent an acute risk of suicide," says psychiatrist Barbara Schneider. However, as soon as you lose control of the suicidal thoughts or if they become more concrete, perhaps even making the first suicidal plans, you should seek help.

Similar to depression, the same applies to suicidal thoughts: If the psychological strain lasts for at least 14 days, then it is high time to act. Incidentally, the cause of suicidal thoughts is also often depression. Around 60 percent of people who commit suicide had prior severe depression. Early preventive measures are all the more important.

Those affected are always faced with a problem - the massive lack of therapy places in Germany. Those affected and organizations in Germany have long been demanding an increase in the number of health insurance companies for psychotherapists so that access to psychotherapy is not so difficult for those affected. "Currently, patients sometimes wait half a year to start therapy.

A time when the disease can also worsen," says Amelie Schwierholz from "Friends for Life". With regard to suicidal thoughts, it is clear: "The earlier those affected get help, the easier it is to prevent suicide."

Psychiatrist Barbara Schneider therefore advises in an interview with the star: "Anyone who needs acute help should contact a clinic or hotline such as the telephone counseling service. There you can get quick, low-threshold help until long-term therapy is possible."

Speaking of help: How can those affected be helped at all? In this regard, the two experts agree: talking is the most important thing. "This means that even if you only have a vague fear that someone is having suicidal thoughts, you should always address it - with the appropriate sensitivity, of course," says Schneider.

Above all, people with suicidal thoughts need understanding and open attention. And that is exactly what often leads to a certain helplessness in many relatives, according to Schwierholz: "Many prefer not to say anything because they are afraid of not finding the right words. Talking is always the right thing to do." This is a signal to those affected that they are not alone.

However, concrete suggestions for solutions or ways of clarifying the problems of the person concerned should be kept to oneself for the time being. Because "in case of doubt, the other person cannot accept them in the current emergency situation." Psychiatrist Barbara Schneider explains why: "It is important to understand that people with suicidal thoughts only see this one way out and not the large bouquet of possibilities that other people in the same situation might see."

Those who have never had it can sometimes find it difficult to understand suicidal thoughts. This makes it all the more important to talk nonjudgmentally with those affected and to take their feelings and thoughts seriously. "Thoughts of suicide are often closely linked to a great deal of hopelessness," explains Amelie Schwierholz. "If you think that life no longer makes sense and you are perhaps already making concrete plans to kill yourself, you should definitely confide in someone and seek help."

Of other people, however, corresponding thoughts are much more difficult to identify. According to Schwierholz, suicidal thoughts sometimes manifest themselves through a change in behavior. "Sometimes those affected don't sleep at all or sleep a lot more, eat little or a lot more than they used to, and tend to behave in a self-destructive manner. These are cries for help that should be taken seriously."

In addition, people who attempt suicide express their plans in advance. At least most. There are also cases in which those affected withdraw. "In this case, however, most of them send indirect information about their plight or their plans," explains psychiatrist Schneider. They are then suddenly very grateful, for example, or "appear to be content to the outside world, even though they were depressed a short time ago."

Around 9,000 people a year who commit suicide in Germany alone, that is 9,000 deaths every year that could be prevented with far-reaching preventive measures. At least that's the theory. In practice, we as a society are still facing a number of construction sites.

And that's why World Suicide Prevention Day is so important. He reminds us that every life is worth fighting for, even – or perhaps especially – when one's own seems pointless. And when everything seems hopeless, it's always worth getting help.

Do you have suicidal thoughts? The telephone counseling service offers help. She is anonymous, free and available 24 hours a day on (0800) 1110111 and (0800) 1110222. Advice via email is also possible. A list of nationwide help centers can be found on the website of the German Society for Suicide Prevention.

Source: Study by Tobias Teismann, Friends for Life, National Suicide Prevention Program

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