On the occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) seeks to promote better understanding of suicide and self-harming behavior, and highlights the importance of seeking psychological support for people who are dealing with stress or mental illness.
“It’s very important to speak out about suicide because when people feel comfortable expressing their feelings and know that they are not going to be judged or looked down upon because they have thoughts of ending their life, then they are more likely to seek help. By talking about suicide, we can also look at the factors that cause it and how we can prevent it or reduce its incidence,” said Dr. Suhaila Ghuloum, Senior Consultant at HMC’s Psychiatry Department.
Contrary to a common belief that suicide or the act of killing oneself is a sign of weakness or lack of faith, in the majority of cases, suicide is not a deliberate act but is due to a mental illness such as severe depression or anxiety that impairs the judgment of the person committing or attempting suicide, according to Dr. Ghuloum.
The psychiatry expert pointed out that a mental illness such as depression is just like any other illness which has biological causes, and that it can be treated. She encouraged people to seek professional help, not necessarily from a psychiatrist but also from a counselor or a psychologist, when their mental state starts to affect their functioning including their ability to socialize, work, study or perform other activities of daily life. Support groups can also help as these can help one feel less isolated.
Initial findings of an HMC-led research study show the incidence of suicide in Qatar and the region in general is significantly lower than those in many countries. However, the study has also found self-harming behavior to be common among adolescents and young adults in Qatar, particularly among those aged from 16 to early twenties. Dr. Ghuloum said data from the study is still in the process of being analyzed.
“Young people of this age group who commit self-harm are almost always under severe stress. While they often have no intention of actually committing suicide, many resort to self-cutting (inflicting wounds on themselves) as this gives them immediate relief. It is a way for them to shift the tension from a psychological to a physical one which is easier for them to deal with. For some, it is also a way of getting other people to listen to them,” Dr. Ghuloum said.
Common stressors that can induce self-harm among the teenagers include social or school stressors, such as the breakdown of a relationship, the stress of examinations or their school performance in general. While people learn better ways of coping with stress as they mature, adolescents often do not have the same coping mechanisms and may also be unable to communicate their frustrations with their parents, siblings or friends. There is also an element of learned behavior or modeling among teenagers who may have heard of or seen others resorting to self-harm.
Changes in personality can often provide clues to a person’s mental state. Someone who is depressed may not be as social as before, may not enjoy the same things that he or she used to enjoy, and his or her performance at school or work may be declining. Dr. Ghuloum stressed it is important to talk to the person and try to address the issue with them, and see if they need help getting referred to a specialist.
Dr. Ghuloum also highlighted the need for all sectors including government, social services and educational institutions to do their part to promote better awareness and provide support for those at risk, such as teaching coping skills to help students deal effectively with stress, training teachers to recognize students who may have mental health problems such as depression, and measures to reduce work-related stress.
If you are concerned that you or your child is experiencing a mental illness and would like to seek help or advice, please discuss this with your current doctor or make an appointment with a private or primary healthcare physician, who may determine if you need a referral to the Psychiatry Department.