World Suicide Prevention Day
Updated: Jan 29, 2019
September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day, a day to talk openly and honestly about the tragedy of suicide and a time to re-commit to the objective of eradicating this preventable cause of death across the world. In 2017, 6639 people in the UK and ROI died by suicide and it remains the biggest killer of men under the age of 49, with rates of male suicide being three times higher than female suicide. Deaths by suicide outnumber deaths from road traffic accidents by a ratio of 3:1 and whilst rates of male suicide seem to be reducing, female suicide rates are increasing.
Suicide is largely a preventable cause of death. It is often a snapshot of time in someone's life; a moment in time that can go one of two ways. For those of us not in the pit of despair and depression, it can be difficult to understand what might drive someone to end their life. But for someone contemplating suicide, it can feel like there is no other option. Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable.
Planting the idea of suicide?
One of the myths that exists around suicide, is that in asking someone if they're feeling suicidal you might 'tip them over the edge' or plant an idea that wasn't there. However, the research evidence shows exactly the opposite. Asking a question such as ‘do you feel so low that you’ve thought about ending your life?’ might represent the only opportunity someone gets to talk about what's happening for them- you might literally be throwing someone a lifeline. And it doesn't really matter what the relationship is- friend, family, colleague, stranger- you might be their one opportunity to open the lid on how they're feeling. If your relationship to the person isn't close you might think, 'It's not my business, I'm sure there are people closer that they can talk to' but it's a sad fact that we often tend to hide our feelings from those closest to us, often for fear of upsetting or disappointing them. Mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin talks about how the actions of a stranger- Neil Laybourn, saved his life in 2008 as he stood on Westminster Bridge ready to take his own life. Jonny said it was Neil's compassion and simple words –'It'll get better mate, you will get better' – that affected him. Neil asked Benjamin to step back and go for a coffee and a chat, and when he eventually climbed down, police arrived.
As Mental Health First Aid Instructor we teach people about the risk factors and warning signs for suicide. More information can be found here. On our courses we also discuss and debunk the myth that talking openly about suicide is risky. The short video below is a another powerful demonstration of the power of talking.
The power of words
I'm reading 'Reasons to Stay Alive' at the moment by Matt Haig. Matt describes his journey into and out of depression and talks powerfully about the importance of words and talking. He says 'When you are depressed you feel alone, and that no one is going through quite what you are going through. You are so scared that people will alienate you further you clam up and don't speak about it, which is a shame, as speaking about it helps. Words- spoken or written- are what connect us to the wold, and so speaking about it to people, and writing about this stuff, helps connect us to each other and to our true selves.'Matt goes on to explain the shame that often exists around mental ill-health: 'We are a clandestine species. Unlike other animals we wear clothes and do our procreating behind closed doors. And we are ashamed when things go wrong with us.’ I would highly recommend Matt's incredibly readable book, because it explains depression in a way that is so relatable, even if you have never suffered from it yourself.
Wise words from someone who’s been there
A close friend of mine recently wrote a blog about her descent into near suicide and her heroic attempt to pull herself out of that dark pit. She describes how on the 5th September 2017, she was on the verge of ending her own life and says 'A v. good friend brought me back from a real brink on that day - the only thing holding me back from jumping in front of a train on that fateful day was not being brave enough, and the support, compassion and kind words of that awesome friend'. She continues 'I got through that day, then a few more. The dark thoughts didn't go away, and in fact increased over the next 4 or so months'. She continues 'No matter how hard it feels (and I totally get that feeling!) try and talk to someone - a partner, a friend, a supportive listener, a GP, a counsellor. I'm not a big talker so I can speak from a place of knowledge to say I know how hard it is. But please speak to someone/anyone. It really will help. Thank you for those wonderful people who quite literally gave me a lifeline.'
The power of talking
Whilst my awesome friend is encouraging those with depression to reach out, this can be incredibly hard as Matt explains in his book. So, I would encourage you to have the courage to talk to the people around you. Take some time to really notice how people seem, and if you're concerned about someone, gather up the confidence to start a conversation about how they're feeling. The friend referred to above was me. I wasn’t going to share this fact when I originally wrote the blog as I absolutely don’t want ‘pats on the back’. But my friend asked me to share this, when I sent her the blog to approve. My perspective on the situation was that I didn’t think I was doing anything particularly significant. I can remember being quite firm and direct, but doing so with a sense of compassion. But I didn’t do anything particularly special and certainly nothing that each and every one of us isn’t capable of.
Help and hope
There is help out there for people suffering from depression or other mental health conditions, and there is hope. If someone is in immediate danger, an Emergency Department is the most appropriate source of help, but for those not in imminent danger, a GP is often the first port of call as far as professional help is concerned. Many organisations also have helpful resources available such as Employee Assistance Programmes and Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA). If you’d like to find out more about MHFA training, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Above all remember, sometimes it's the small things we do, such as asking a genuine 'how are you?' coupled with a genuine desire to listen without judgement, that can make a difference.
When it comes to suicide, talking literally can save lives.
Please take the time to share this blog on your social media channels and we’d love to hear your thoughts and comments so don’t be shy- post them in the comments below! As Matt Haig says ‘We’re ashamed when things go wrong with us. But we’ll grow out of this, and the way we’ll do it is by speaking about it. And maybe even through reading and writing about it.’
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