Suicide is the act of killing oneself. Because it is an uncomfortable topic, most people avoid talking about it. In many cultures and religions stigma is attached to suicide and other mental health problems. Because of this stigma and shame, those who feel suicidal do not ask for the help that they need. But suicide is preventable. There is help for those who feel suicidal, for those living with suicidal people, and for those whose lives have been affected by the suicide of a loved one.
Although there is no single cause for suicide, it is known that trauma and stress increase the risk of suicide. As a refugee, you face unusually high trauma and stress. You are settling into a strange land with different customs and language. You may have achieved high financial and social status in your old country, but in this new country you must start over at a lower social level. You may be dependent on others for quite some time while you search for adequate employment, housing, and transportation.
As a refugee, you probably have not had time to emotionally process the sequence of events that propelled you to become a refugee. You may suffer from traumatic stress because of war and persecution, torture, displacement from your country, the migration process, the conditions of a refugee camp, forced isolation, or family and community violence.
You may encounter unique stresses within your family. If you are a parent, you will have trouble advocating for your children in a strange culture and tongue. Your child may become a translator for you, changing the power balance in your relationship. You may have conflicts with your children over new and old cultural values. You may be uncomfortable with some of the customs and mores in your new country. You may not know your rights or be afraid of authority. You may not feel accepted by the people in your new community.
Being a refugee is an extremely stressful life event. Most refugees are able to cope with the stress and lead fulfilling lives. But some, often because of other risk factors, such as mental health conditions, drug or alcohol abuse, chronic pain, poor interpersonal skills, or because of their family history become depressed and suicidal.
A person’s ability to cope with or bounce back from stress is individual. If you or a loved one is having trouble coping, it is nothing to be ashamed of. You might be hoping that your dark feelings will go away. You might be thinking that suicide is an easy way out of your troubles. A loved one may not open up about his or her suicidal feelings. He or she may feel that they are a burden and their death would make life easier for all. Recognizing when you or a loved one is struggling and needs help is the first step to put you back on a path to health.
Experts in suicide have identified some common warning signs that you can look for in yourself and your loved ones. Don’t ignore these warning signs! Most people who do take their lives exhibit one or more of these warning signs. If your loved one exhibits these signs, the National Institute for Mental Health suggests that you take the following steps.
- Ask: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
- Keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
- Be there: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
- Help them connect: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number in your phone so it’s there when you need it: 1-800-8255 (TALK). You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional.
- Stay Connected: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.
Getting into counseling, supportive therapy, or support groups can be extremely helpful for suicidal persons. Strong family and community support is beneficial in preventing suicide. With the right help, a formerly suicidal person can become a happy person with hopes for the future. Don’t let shame or embarrassment stop you from getting life-saving help.