World Suicide Prevention Day: A Call for Action in Asia

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, a global initiative to raise awareness and prevent suicides. This year’s theme is “Creating Hope Through Action”, which aims to inspire confidence and light in people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts or have been affected by suicide.

Suicide is a serious public health problem that affects millions of people around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 700,000 people die by suicide every year, and for every suicide, there are many more attempts and impacts on families, friends, and communities. Suicide is also the fourth leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 29.

In Asia, suicide rates vary widely between countries and regions, but some of them are among the highest in the world. For example, in 2019, the WHO reported that the suicide rates in the South-East Asia region (10.2 per 100,000 population) and the Western Pacific region (9.8 per 100,000 population) were higher than the global average (9.0 per 100,000 population). Some of the countries with the highest suicide rates in Asia include Sri Lanka (35.3 per 100,000 population), Mongolia (28.1 per 100,000 population), South Korea (24.6 per 100,000 population), and Japan (18.5 per 100,000 population).

There are many factors that contribute to the high prevalence of suicide in Asia, such as socio-economic pressures, family and work stress, mental health conditions, stigma, lack of awareness, and limited access to mental health services and support. In some Asian cultures, suicide is also seen as a taboo topic that is not openly discussed or acknowledged.

However, there are also signs of hope and change in the region. Many Asian countries have developed national policies and plans for suicide prevention, such as China, India, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. There are also various initiatives and organizations that promote mental health awareness and provide support for people who are at risk of suicide or have been affected by it.

One of them is Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), a non-profit organization that offers emotional support to anyone who is in crisis or thinking of suicide. SOS operates a 24-hour hotline that receives about 100 calls a day from people who are feeling distressed or suicidal. SOS also provides online chat services, email befriending, face-to-face counseling, support groups, and public education programs.

Another example is Mind HK, a non-profit organization that aims to improve the mental health of Hong Kong’s population by providing information, resources, training, and advocacy. Mind HK was founded in 2017 as part of the global initiative City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA), which brings together businesses and organizations to support mental health in the workplace.

World Suicide Prevention Day is a reminder that suicide can be prevented and that there is hope for everyone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts or has been affected by suicide. By creating hope through action, we can make a difference in our own lives and the lives of others.

To illustrate the importance and urgency of suicide prevention in Asia, we spoke to two people who have attempted suicide in the past and survived. They shared their stories and insights on how they overcame their challenges and found hope for their future.

Lee, a 27-year-old software engineer from Seoul, South Korea, said he tried to kill himself twice when he was in college. He said he felt overwhelmed by academic pressure and social expectations from his family and peers. He also suffered from depression and anxiety but did not seek professional help because he was afraid of being judged or discriminated.

“I felt like I had no purpose or meaning in life. I felt like I was a failure and a burden to everyone. I felt hopeless and helpless,” he said.

Lee said he survived his first attempt because his roommate found him unconscious and called an ambulance. He said he survived his second attempt because he changed his mind at the last minute and called SOS for help.

“SOS saved my life. They listened to me without judging me or telling me what to do. They made me feel like I was not alone and that someone cared about me,” he said.

Lee said he decided to seek professional help after talking to SOS. He said he was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder and received medication and psychotherapy. He said he also joined a support group for people who have attempted suicide or have lost someone to suicide.

“I learned that I was not weak or crazy for having mental health issues. I learned that there were many people who were going through similar struggles as me. I learned that there was hope for recovery and healing,” he said.

Lee said he is now in a much better place mentally and emotionally. He said he has found his passion for coding and has a stable job at a reputable company. He said he has also reconnected with his family and friends and has made new friends at his support group.

“I still have bad days sometimes, but I know how to cope with them. I know that I have a lot to live for and that I have a lot to offer to the world. I know that suicide is not the answer and that there is always a way out,” he said.

Ling, a 32-year-old teacher from Beijing, China, said she tried to kill herself three years ago when she was going through a divorce. She said she felt betrayed and abandoned by her husband, who had an affair with another woman. She said she also felt ashamed and humiliated by her family and society, who blamed her for the failure of her marriage.

“I felt like I had lost everything that mattered to me. I felt like I had no value or dignity as a woman. I felt hopeless and worthless,” she said.

Ling said she survived her attempt because her neighbor heard her scream and broke into her apartment. She said she was taken to the hospital and treated for her injuries. She said she was also referred to a psychiatrist for counseling and support.

“My doctor helped me a lot. They gave me information and resources about mental health and suicide prevention. They also provided me with counseling and support. They helped me cope with my emotions and trauma,” she said.

Ling said she decided to file for divorce and start a new life. She said she also enrolled in a master’s degree program in education and pursued her dream of becoming a teacher. She said she has also joined a volunteer group that helps children from low-income families.

“I realized that I had more to live for than my marriage. I realized that I had the strength and courage to overcome my challenges and achieve my goals. I realized that there was hope for a better future,” she said.

Ling said she is now happy and fulfilled with her life. She said she loves her job as a teacher and enjoys making a difference in the lives of her students. She said she has also made new friends at her volunteer group and has found a new partner who respects and supports her.

“I still have challenges sometimes, but I know how to deal with them. I know that I have a lot of potential and that I have a lot of opportunities to grow. I know that suicide is not the solution and that there is always a reason to live,” she said.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or needs emotional support, please reach out to one of these helplines or resources: