How to save a lifeOn July 4, 2014, Police Constable David Rathband was shot at close range by a 37-year-old mentally disturbed man in Northumberland, England. This incident resulted in him becoming permanently blind and thus unable to continue his career in the police force, a job he greatly loved.
Nineteen months later, Rathband committed suicide by hanging himself. Investigators later found out Rathband had been suffering from depression due to his blindness. He feared becoming a burden to those around him and eventually, unable to cope with his feelings of despair and hopelessness, decided he didn’t want to go on living.
In that same year, there were an average of 27.3 suicides per 100,000 people in South Korea. Among the most common causes of death in the country, about 40 South Koreans take their own lives every day. These harrowing statistics are not news to most of us; we have heard or read about them before. But I wonder how many of us realize that behind each number lies a person with a story. And in many instances, it’s a story very similar to David Rathband’s.
There are people suffering from despair and suicidal feelings all around us as we go about our daily lives, who, more often than not, appear completely normal to us. The old man sitting next to you on the subway might be pondering going home and ending his life by taking some tablets. His wife has passed away, the children have their own families to tend to, he doesn’t have any money left, nobody
needs him around anymore, he feels.
Or perhaps on a late-night bus ride across the river, you see a bespectacled teenager slowly walking alone along the bridge footpath. Unknown to you, he is contemplating jumping off the bridge. He has failed to get the exam results needed for getting into the SKY universities. “I’m a disappointment to my parents, I’ll never get a well-paid job and a beautiful wife, I don’t have a future,” he thinks.
In South Korea, social isolation, stressful jobs, financial problems, depression and the highly competitive education system are among the common factors putting people at risk of suicide.
It’s often hard to tell how someone is feeling on the inside, so how can we help those around us who might be thinking of ending their lives? How do we know if a family member, a friend or colleague or even a stranger may be suffering from despair and suicidal feelings? According to the Samaritans, a U.K.-based charity that provides listening support to people suffering from suicidal feelings, some of
the following signs may indicate someone is in poor emotional health:
• lacking energy or appearing particularly tired
• appearing more tearful
• not wanting to talk to or be with people
• not wanting to do things they usually enjoy
• a change in routine, such as sleeping or eating more or less than normal
• using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings
• finding it hard to cope with everyday things
• appearing restless and agitated
• not liking or taking care of themselves or feeling they don’t matter
• being un-typically clumsy or accident prone
• becoming withdrawn or losing touch with friends and family
People who are struggling to cope with life often feel negative about themselves and suffer from feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and isolation. They might make statements like “I can’t take this anymore, I want to give up,” “Nobody loves me” or “I hate myself.” Sometimes, they might express these feelings through mobile messaging and social media (tweets, Facebook posts, etc.). Even if said
jokingly, these remarks should be taken seriously.
If you recognize these signs in someone you know, you can offer support by trying to get them to talk to you. Numerous studies have shown that when given the opportunity to talk about their thoughts and feelings, people are able to think more clearly. Ask open questions to help explore how they feel. Suicidal feelings are often momentary, and talking to someone about your emotions is often a huge relief. It may result in the suicidal person choosing to take a different course of action than ending his or her life.
Secondly, be an active listener. Active listening involves giving your full attention to the speaker and from time to time giving responses that encourage the other person to continue talking. When listening to someone sharing their problems, it is often very tempting to offer your own advice and opinions. However, this often causes more harm than help. It is important to respect what the other person is telling you and to let them make their own decisions. You can suggest sources of professional help like counseling or government-run services, but don’t pressure them to follow through on your advice.
On the day he took his own life, Rathband tweeted, “Some people look like pencils after trauma and loss -- on the exterior functioning well, on the inside broken. Do you know any pencils?? If so please visit one and make sure they are coping, even if they don’t answer your calls.. That pencil may just snap and be lost 4ever ;-(.”
And finally, if you are going through a tough time in life, not necessarily thinking about suicide, please take courage to talk to someone about how you feel. Talking about your emotions can help you think more clearly about what your options are and make you feel better. You can talk to a friend or family member you trust, or, if you prefer to talk to a stranger, you can talk to a professional counselor.
Further information on where to find help if you are feeling suicidal or on how to support a friend who might be struggling is available on the following websites: Befrienders Worldwide (www.befrienders.org), Suicide.org (www.suicide.org), the Samaritans U.K. (www.samaritans.org).
Online information in Korean is available through the Counsel24 (www.counsel24.com)
*The author is a chemical engineer by profession and a former listening volunteer with the Samaritans, U.K. The views expressed
here are his own. He can be reached at
David Paul [firstname.lastname@example.org.]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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