Death has been all around recently. Tragically many of these have been suicides, in the last few months I have heard of more people taking their lives then I have ever before.
This has impacted so many people on so many levels. For those whom have mental health issues, anxiety, OCD, depression, Bipolar and so many more the week has been a trigger, a huge, full blown, black, dark, pit of being triggered.
When I was a child, even as a teenager the word suicide was unheard, it was “committed” a word we use it in relation to crimes, it has a negative connotation and is usually used in relation to something we all would consider as wrong, “committed a murder” “committed a robbery” “committed a crime”.
Suicide was until 1961 a crime.
Attempting suicide would lead to either a fine or a spell in a jail cell, the stigma and depression for those whom found themselves, at their lowest points in their lives locked up in a jail instead of shown love and compassion must have been huge.
I recently attended a day of suicide prevention training at work. One of the first things we were told is that the word committed when talking about suicide is thankfully now not used.
A lot of what I have written below is based or taken from some of the information we received during our suicide training.
Most people who are contemplating suicide are not thinking rationally or clearly, their judgement clouded by pain, just wanting the hurt to stop. A suicidal crisis is between 5 minutes to 30 minutes, in that time a life can be saved, a suicide tragedy averted.
When a person takes their life, at least 15 people are emotionally inured. Of these 15 a staggering 60% will themselves experience some thoughts of suicide. Then there are those we would not think of, those who are not close friends, family members or colleagues ges of the person who has taken their lives, for example the postman who may have shared many a “good morning, with her, or the local shopkeeper who may have seen her at the same time every week for a long time.
Another aspect of suicide is the blame, when an event happens, we tend to seek to blame, for somewhere to plant our pain, a way to cope, self-blame when it comes to suicide is something we all do. When I tragically had to break the news to my friend letting her know about a friend of hers taking her life,she immediately blamed herself, asking “why didn’t I call her more, I should have known something was not right”. We can not do this to ourselves, if a person takes their life, no one is to blame, no one could have stopped them if they did not let anyone know or make anyone aware of their pain.
The numbers are shocking, in 2018 a number of 5821 people took their own lives, that is equivalent to 12 British airways flights crashing a year. There are also many suicide attempts, and suicides that go unreported.
There are many signs, that a person may give that they are thinking, or planning to take their own lives, these can be obvious signs such as posting on social media, or more subtle, not turning up to work, distancing themselves from people, saying things such as “I want it all to end” or they feel so alone, a burden, a failure, or may seem completely numb, elated or high.
Other signs, one may see is the person acting in certain unusual ways, displaying promiscuity, drinking more, self-medicating, withdrawing, putting their affairs in order neglecting themselves and more.
It is not usually an isolated occurrence that leads to self-harm suicide or suicidal thoughts, usually it is a combination of traumatic, hurtful and tragic events which lead up to suicide for younger people it could be an immense amount of peer pressure, a bereavement, abuse, change of medication, past history, Biological and psychological factors, current life events.
Interestingly, 75% of people who take their own lives have not been in contact with mental health services.
The more a person thinks about suicide the more likely they are to eventually attempt or carry out suicide.
A sadly common word used when discussing suicide is Selfish.
The word selfish, has no place in this discussion. It is not selfish, in fact it is the opposite, a person who takes her own life is not being selfish, tragically they believe the world would be better without them, they have nothing to give, are failures, they can’t do their jobs, be a friend, parent, spouse, daughter etc.
Talking about suicide is truly hard, but with suicide on the rise in our communities it is so important to realise that people are crying out for help. I once read an article by one of the minute amount of suicide survivors, that as soon as an action is taken, jumping from that bridge, swallowing those pills etc, there is instant regret, and sadly it is often too late.
We ALL have the ability to stop a suicide. Anyone can give suicide first aid, we may be afraid of the responsibility, but it does not have to fall solely on our shoulders, if we see a person collapse in the street, and give CPR we are not expected to then go on and give that person heart surgery, then monitor that person for the rest of their lives.
It’s always important to make links, who may be their supporters, their friends, family, community groups, there are more formal links, such as helplines, emergency care, and more. It is about at that moment keeping a person safe, taking it minute by minute.
So, what to do.
First is do not judge, do not lecture, do not tell them that what they are doing is wrong or stupid. Do not give advice (that’s a big one).
Tell someone your concerns, although it is so difficult and uncomfortable ask the question. “are you thinking of taking your life” or “do you have any plans to end your life”. if the answer is yes, let them know its ok that they told you. Ask yourself if both of you are safe right now, if yes then you can continue being with the person, if you or the person are unsafe get help.
Take time, ask gentle questions with empathy, listening and mirroring, acknowledge their pain, and recognise their suffering, give permission to tell. Now is not the time to give advice or solutions, rather help them understand that right this second the way they feel now may not be the best time to make such a major decision.
We can ask questions such as “did something in particular trigger this” try to normalise it. When a person is able to see they are distressed, they are more receptive to being asked more questions, and lead a conversation, for example, acknowledging their pain with a simple “ I am so glad you told me this, it sounds so painful, can you tell me more about what happened, or is happening” or “you sound so overwhelmed, let’s see what we can do to lower the anxiety this is causing”
People need to feel heard and understood, so before we reply, seek to understand first. Ask yourself “am I really listening, or am I just waiting for my turn to speak”.
It is traumatic to hear someone talking about taking their life but know that you are not alone.
“when you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen”
Acknowledging that yes, suicide is an option, but let’s just pause, see what other options there are, do they really need to make a life and death decision at this moment? Have they spoken to anyone else about this? Is right now a good time to make a major decision.
Then move on to practicalities, such as “maybe together we can start making a plan of action” “see what other options you have” then create a list or contract to help that person stay safe.
Finally. A list of possible scenarios and ways to safeguard:
Aloneness: Do they have support? Who is their network? “I’m here, you are not alone”
Pain/Desperation: Find ways to reduce emotional/physical pain, just be with them. Hold their hope.
Suicide Plan: How? When? How prepared are they? And how to disable the plan, simple ideas to deny access to materials that can be used.
Alcohol/drugs: How much is normal for that person, how much is safe
Mental health: what or who helps? What have they learnt in the past?
A personal safety plan can also be put in to place:
To stay safe from suicide what actions needs to take place now (24-hour contacts, GP number, other numbers)
Later, when the immediate danger has passed another list could be made which will include things such as:
If I notice these signs again: Who will I talk to, I will seek help from? I will calm and comfort myself by? I will distract myself by. I will go to these places to feel safe… I will remember these things and people who have helped me in the past,
The main thing is to let the person know that you need to know how to keep them safe right now, and if we are unable to press pause on the suicide plan right now emergency help needs to be sought.
My last message is this, NEVER brush someone off, never assume that just because they have threatened suicide for the past month every day that they will not carry out their plan. They are in deep pain. Pain which they may not be able to control, which may lead to self-harm which may lead to death.