The tragic suicide of a Wits student on the night of 14 October brought into sharp focus that we don’t know how to deal with someone who is standing on the edge, ready to take their life.
— Thabo (@ThaboT_style) October 16, 2017
Allegedly, people standing outside the South Point building in Braamfontein were encouraging the 19-year-old student to jump. This isn’t the first time onlookers have acted this way. In 2014, also in the Johannesburg CBD, onlookers egged on a man to jump to his death.
South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) spokesperson Bessy Tzoneva, told The Daily Vox that this happens because our society doesn’t take mental health conditions seriously, especially if we don’t understand what the other person is going through. “We do also tend to treat people a specific way if we feel we can’t relate or we see them as quite different or behaving in a way that’s foreign to us,” she said.
If you do see a person standing on a ledge, Tzoneva said the most important thing you can do is to try stay calm and talk to them. Don’t try to physically intervene and pull them down. You’ll probably need some assistance so get someone to call the police or any security personnel. It’s better to call the nearest police station and ask for the station commander. They are more aware of the circumstances of the situation than the person answering the phone. “It’s very important to communicate, when the SAPS is called, that you are in an emergency, there is a person who looks like they might want to take their life, and that you need assistance immediately.”
The police, once they’ve accessed the situation, will generally send someone who is a negotiator.
While talking to the person in distress, express concern to them. Tzoneva said it’s important to form a connection. “Say that you will stay there with them, that you want to help and to just talk.” Once you’ve built some kind of connection with them, you can ask them to step back or if they want to, to sit down. “[Try to] really understand what is happening to them, why they are over here wanting to take their life.”
If you come across someone who is attempting to take their life, there are a number of resources you can use.
SADAG has a suicide line which you can call on their behalf. Call 0800 21 22 23 between 08:00 and 20:00 or 0800 12 13 14 between 20:00 and 08:00. Alternatively you can send an SMS to 31393 and they’ll call you back.
You can also call 10111 or the nearest police station.