On Friday it was reported that rapper Mac Miller had died from an overdose at the age of 26. This follows recent news of suicides by other public figures including Professor Bongani Mayosi, designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain. Witnessing the people we admire take their own lives can be incredibly demoralising and affect us on a very deep emotional level. These headlines also make it hard to ignore the ever-more prevalent issue of suicide today.

So, in honour of World Suicide Prevention Day and Suicide Awareness month, The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) and Marie Claire have compiled a guide to arm you with all the information you may need as someone who is suffering (or has a loved one who is suffering) from mental illness, plus things to know if you want to raise awareness and learn more.

Myths about suicide

SADAG reports that, locally, one in three people ‘has or will will have a mental illness at some point in their lifetime’. We need to address the stigma around mental-health issues. You can start here by getting clued up on the myths that perpetuate the stigma and prevent those who need it from seeking help.

1. Talking about suicide means you are not serious about it

75% of people who die by suicide, tell someone first. Do not be afraid to speak about suicide with a loved one you fear may be contemplating it.

2. Suicide is caused by stress

An emotionally traumatic event can trigger suicidal thoughts and eventually lead to the act, but it is not the cause. The inability to cope with or see past feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, coupled with depression and anxiety (whether resulting or already existing), are the main factors. In South Africa, the main stressors for suicide centre around AIDS-related illnesses, road injuries and interpersonal violence, as well as a lack of accessibility to treatment and intervention awareness.

3. It is a quick decision

The conviction to die is one that waxes and wanes, and one that may be thought about and contemplated over time. Many people who die by suicide have experienced suicidal thoughts and have contemplated taking their own life before the act.

4. There is a ‘type’ of suicidal person

This ties into the idea that depression has a certain ‘face’ and as a result we think suicide is least likely to occur with ‘smart and successful’ people. This is a harmful misconception. Suicide has no cultural, ethnic, racial or socioeconomic boundaries.

5. Talking about suicide with a depressed person will make them do it

‘Discussing suicidality with a depressed person will not lead them to commit suicide,’ says SADAG. But isolation might. ‘Many individuals who attempt suicide may be suffering from a mental disorder that will respond to appropriate and effective treatment.’

6. People who attempt suicide are just looking for attention

A cry for help in the form of a suicide attempt is usually the first step to seeking treatment. All attempts and threats should be taken seriously.

7. People who kill themselves are selfish or weak

Suicidal thoughts are not admissions of selfishness or weakness. They are symptoms of a mental-health issue, whether clinically diagnosed or not, pre-existing or as a result of an emotionally stressful event. Making people who feel suicidal feel guilty or ashamed is not an effective way to address the root cause.

Suicide Prevention Toolkit

There is the possibility of preventing suicide. If you are not sure how, here are a few helpful guides on how to identify warning signs and ways to get help.

FYI: Facebook Friday Online Chat

SADAG is hosting a free online Facebook Q&A to offer support to those who have suffered the loss of a loved one to suicide, and for those who wish to learn more about recognising the signs of possible suicide in advance.

When: 1–2pm with clinical psychologist Lerato Msimanga, and 7–8pm with psychiatrist Dr Ingrid Williamson. Join here.

Donate to SADAG

The organisation runs the only national suicide helpline and receives a large volume of calls from people in need of crucial advice, intervention and emergency help. Donations assist in funding the call centre, as well as the calls to alert emergency services and family members.

You can donate here to help make a difference every day.

Receive help

Find out more on SADAG’s website.