For too long suicide has been spoken about in hushed voices and, whether we like it or not, with a sense of judgement. This World Suicide Prevention Day, we must commit to changing the conversation around suicide to one that encourages compassion, support and, as led by the WSPD2021 - IASP, creating hope through action. Suicide can be prevented, we just need to change the way we think and talk about it.
Suicide can affect anyone and everyone, yet it still carries a huge sense of shame. Sadly it seems talking about it makes us feel incredibly uncomfortable but if we don't talk how will anything ever change? If we take the time, we start to understand that suicide is often less about people wanting to die and more about feeling there is no alternative to the suffering they endure and a lack of hope.
This understanding brings us closer to more open and compassionate conversations; ones that provide hope.
In 2019 alone 1 in every 100 deaths worldwide is as a result of suicide, 5,691 deaths by suicide in England and Wales (www.samaritans.org) (www.who.int)
So how can we make a difference?
#1 - START TALKING
Talking is one of the best ways to shift the needle and help remove the stigma surrounding suicide. This helps people who are struggling to feel they can ask for help from those around them.
We need to normalise that talking about our mental health, our feelings and thoughts is exactly the same as talking about our physical health - normal and healthy. This starts in our homes, workplaces and with our friends and families. Letting those around us know that it’s OK to open up, we make it that little bit easier when they feel the need to talk to someone.
Of course, it is not your job to be everyone’s therapist, but if we make those around us feel opening up is okay, then perhaps they will feel happy to open up to a mental health professional too.
#2 - SPOT THE WARNING SIGNS
You won’t always be able to tell when someone is considering suicide, but here are some signs to be aware of:
Withdrawing from others such as friends and family
Sudden change in behaviour, putting affairs in order such as giving away belongings or making a will
Self-destructive behaviour, such as excessive drinking or drugs
Talking about suicide, death or violence and saying things like ‘I’d be better off dead’ or threatening to hurt themselves, accessing pills, knives, etc.
Talking about a lack of hope for the future and things won’t get better
If you notice anything out of the ordinary or a warning sign, take it seriously. People who are suicidal often show their feelings, so it’s so important we don’t ignore them. Even if you have a gut feeling, don’t ignore it. You could save a life.
#3 - KNOW HOW TO RESPOND
If you do spot a warning sign, it’s vital you know how to respond. It can be difficult, but it’s better that you act rather than leave it.
The first thing to do is, ASK.
Asking and talking about suicide won’t put ideas in someone’s head but it can provide them an opportunity to open up, which may reduce the risk of suicide.
When asking, be sensitive but direct:
“You haven’t seemed like yourself lately. Are you OK?”
“I wanted to check in to see how you are doing?”
“How are you coping with things at the moment?”
“Is there anything you want to talk about, I’m here to listen.”
“Are you thinking about suicide?”
By asking you’re letting them know you’re there for them and they’re not alone. Its important to listen and let them just talk. Try not to interrupt and remember to be non-judgemental and sympathetic.
Its equally important to know what you SHOULDN’T say when talking to someone who might be suicidal. Don’t lecture them on the value of life or argue that suicide will only hurt their family and loved ones, or that it’s ‘selfish’ or make them feel like they have to justify their feelings. If it starts to feel difficult or awkward of you, simply let them talk and praise them for their trust in you and courage in opening up.
Next … ENCOURAGE THEM TO GET SUPPORT.
Remind them that the feelings they’re experiencing are temporary. Although it won’t feel like it right now, things will get better and encourage them to reach out for professional help and support, support groups like the Samaritans, helplines, doctors and mental health specialists such as counsellors and therapists.
Remember if you feel the person is in immediate danger, ring 999 for emergency services (UK) and seek immediate help. Do not leave them alone until help is with you.
Creating Hope through Action
If we can change our own view of suicide, to one of compassion and support, we can create hope. Having open conversations and choosing to talk is the first step and could save a life.
There is always the possibility of hope. Know that there is always someone to talk to.
As always, please reach out if you would like some support for yourself, or a loved one.