a*TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains informational references to suicide, self-harm rather than explicit description, but some readers may be reminded of their own experiences*.
September 10th represents a very important date within the mental health community – because it is World Suicide Prevention Day.
Behind every statistic, there is a very real and personal story. Every suicide is one too many.
When I was growing up, I had a friend who took his own life, a week before I lost my dad. I sometimes still kick myself for not knowing how he must have felt, from the outside he always looked so happy.
From my understanding of suicide and suicidal thoughts, those who experience them and the unfortunate times that they are completed – they don’t want to die. They are just in such intense psychological and emotional pain that they cannot see any other alternative. It is a very desperate and absolute decision to solve perceived problems.
Struggling to cope with life doesn’t look or feel the same to everyone.
GROUPS KNOWN TO BE MOST AT RISK:
- Men – are at least three times as vulnerable to death by suicide.
- LGBTQ+ – research has shown that suicide rates tend to be higher amongst gay and bisexual males as opposed to lesbian and bisexual women. All included in the LGBTQ+ community are considered at a higher risk.
- If they have attempted suicide before – there is a greater chance they may attempt to do it again in the future.
- If they have self-harmed in the past – whilst self-harming isn’t the same as feeling suicidal, it does pose an elevated risk of suicide in comparison to those who have never done it.
- If they have lost someone to suicide – people who have been bereaved as a result of suicide are at a greater risk of taking their own lives.
- If they have seen and experienced trauma – they are likely to inflict trauma upon themselves.
- If they have a substance misuse problem – alcohol and drug addictions are second to depression and mood disorders as the most frequent risk factors for suicide.
- If they are divorced – the breakdown of a relationship can contribute to the risk of suicide.
- If they have served in the armed forces – being on active duty or leaving the service is a peak time for risk of suicide.
- If they live in the deprived parts of society – those who are unable to access services, work and education are more at risk of suicide than those in more affluent sections.
- If they have a long-term medical condition – those suffering from chronic pain, cognitive disorders, have been diagnosed with cancer, terminal and degenerative diseases can predispose individuals to the risk of suicide.
- If they experience mental health issues – mood disorders are the most common and life-threatening psychiatric illnesses. For example, the suicide rate amongst those with bipolar disorder is 25x higher than the general population.
- If they are involved in the criminal justice or child welfare systems – suicide is the single most common cause of death in the criminal justice system. Individuals in the welfare system have often experienced traumatic experiences.
Suicidal thoughts often begin as a reaction to difficult situations in our lives. So, taking the time to reach out to someone could really change the course of that person’s life.
It’s understandable that people can be scared to reach out to someone suffering for many reasons – like not knowing what to say or not wanting to make them feel worse, and that’s okay! But don’t be afraid to approach them, there is no evidence that talking to them will make things worse for them. In fact, showing that you care is a powerful way to support someone.
SIGNS THAT SOMEONE MAY NOT BE OKAY:
- Displaying extreme mood swings.
- Not feeling okay, but being unable to put your finger on why.
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs and engaging in reckless behaviour.
- Talking about wanting to die/looking for a way to kill oneself.
- Being emotional, tearful and overwhelmed by negative thoughts.
- Displaying anger or talking about seeking revenge.
- Being withdrawn, stopped replying to messages, and feeling isolated.
- Sleeping too much or too little.
- Talking about being a burden to others.
- Talking about feeling hopeless and having no purpose.
- Being restless and agitated.
- Feeling more tired than usual and unable to concentrate.
- Unable to find enjoyment or energy for the things they usually enjoy.
- Being unable to cope with everyday things.
- Talking about feeling trapped and/or being in pain.
SIGNS THAT AN ONLINE FRIEND MAY NOT BE OKAY:
- Look for social media updates and messages expressing low or suicidal thoughts. The fact that they’re putting it on social media is an opportunity.
- Following accounts or searching for means on ways to hurt themselves.
- They display a preoccupation with death.
- They imply they have no hope for the future.
- Saying goodbye.
SITUATIONS TO LOOK OUT FOR:
- Relationship problems, abuse and breakdown.
- Family problems, abuse and breakdown.
- Insomnia or sleeping too much.
- Job-related stress, unemployment, retirement and redundancy.
- Debt and financial worries.
- Loss and bereavement.
- No interest in their physical appearance and personal hygiene.
- Bullying and discrimination.
- Study-related stress.
- Long-term and terminal health issues.
- History of trauma or abuse.
- Living alone, loneliness and isolation.
- Alcohol and drug addictions.
- Mental health problems.
- Changes in appetite, weight gain or weight loss.
- Risk of becoming or being homeless.
- Feelings of self-loathing and low self-esteem.
- Urges and acts of self-harm.
- Thoughts, expressions of interest in and attempts of suicide.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOURSELF:
- Get in touch with an organisation.
- Talk to someone and discuss your options.
- Download the ‘Stay Alive’ app. It produces a digital version of a safety plan, as well as examples of coping strategies, helpline numbers and other useful information.
- Get safe right now. Just get through the next five minutes. Take things each minute as they come, it might seem more bearable. Reward yourself each time you make it to five minutes.
- Remove anything you can use to harm yourself and put it out of reach and out of sight. If you don’t feel safe doing this, ask someone else to remove these things for you. At uni, my flatmates would often put all dangerous items in a bag and then hide it from me until I got passed it.
- If you have a safety plan or crisis plan, follow it. The urge to act on these feelings usually only lasts for a relatively short time of a few hours, power through them.
- Reach out and tell someone how you feel, it might help you to feel less alone and more in control.
- Get distracted. Find coping techniques that work for you. Focus on your senses. Steady your breathing. Look after your needs. Go outside when you feel stuck. Reach out.
- Challenge your thinking. Make a deal with yourself that you won’t act today.
- Try to not think about the future, just focus on getting through each day at a time.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO SUPPORT SOMEONE ELSE:
- Talk to them about their feelings. Reach out and start a conversation if you notice something is different.
- Listen to them. Ask them direct questions. Many people just want to be given the chance to talk, but they don’t want to reach out and feel like a burden.
- Encourage them to get in contact with an organisation.
- Talk with them and discuss options. Let them know that they have options.
- Check they know where to get help from.
- Ask them questions like:
- “Have you spoken to anyone about this?”
- “Would you like to get some help with this?”
- “Would you like me to come with you?”
- “Do you have someone you trust you can go to when you feel like this?”
- “If it helps, you can talk to me any time.”
- “How are you feeling today?”
- “I’ve been feeling concerned about you lately, how have you been doing?”
- “Recently I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing?”
- “When did you begin feeling like this?”
- “Did something happen to make you feel this way?”
- “How best can I support you right now?”
- Use open questions when you can. It requires the person to pause, think and reflect and hopefully expand upon what they say and feel.
- Ask them questions like:
- Know that you don’t have to be able to solve their problems, but you can offer support and encouragement to communicate how they feel in a healthy and safe manner.
- Say it back to them. Check that you have understood. You can also check that you have heard what they wanted to express to you, not just what you have interpreted from it.
- If there is talk of suicide, always take it seriously.
- Don’t be discouraged by a negative response. They’re not angry with you, they have a lot on their mind. It may take time and several attempts before they are ready to open up to someone.
- Don’t feel like you have to fill a silence. If they’ve paused, wait, they might not have finished speaking. It might take them some time to formulate what they are saying or they might find it difficult to express what they are feeling.
- You can contact an organisation on their behalf. For example, you can contact the Samaritans and they can get in contact with the person on a certain platform, whether it be phone or email. They can say which person referred them or keep it anonymous.
WHERE TO GET SUPPORT:
- The GP is a good starting point. They will be experienced in listening and talking to people who are experiencing difficult feelings. They can refer you onto talking therapies, prescribe medication and refer to specialist services such as your local community mental health team.
- Medication. Psychiatric medication can be prescribed to help cope with symptoms and treat mental health problems. The most common include antidepressants, antipsychotics and mood stabilisers.
- Talking therapies. This involves speaking about feelings with a trained professional. It can be useful to understand why you/they are experiencing suicidal feelings and think about ways to cope and resolve them.
- There can often be long waiting lists through the NHS, so many available services are offered through charities and organisations, workplaces and universities.
- Crisis services. They are available at short notice to help you resolve a mental health crisis.
- Local services. Day services. Drop-in sessions. Counselling. Issue-specific support.
- Telephone support. To get information and support when you need it, many telephone services operate during the out-of-hours of others. They are usually confidential. They can be easier if you find it difficult to open up to those around you or speaking about it face to face.
- Peer support is a good way to bring together people who have similar experiences so they can share thoughts, tips for coping and other useful information. There are a lot of online peer support groups too.
It is important to treat anyone having a difficult time or suicidal thoughts with as much empathy, compassion, genuine concern, knowledge of resources and desire as you can offer. Check-in with them. Ask them how they are doing. Encourage them to share their experiences and help restore their hope.
An offer of a listening ear and support is more likely to reduce feelings of distress than increase them.
USEFUL RESOURCES TO KNOW:
- SAMARITANS: for everyone.
- Call 116 123
- Email: email@example.com
- CAMPAIGN AGAINST LIVING MISERABLY (CALM): for men. [5PM-MIDNIGHT EVERYDAY].
- 0800 58 58 58
- PAPYRUS: under 35s.
- 0800 068 4141 [10AM-10PM MONDAY-FRIDAY, 2PM-10PM WEEKENDS, 2PM-5PM BANK HOLIDAYS]
- Text: 0778 620 9697
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- CHILDLINE: under 19s.
- 0800 1111
For a more extensive list of services, check out my ‘need help?’ page here.