** TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains informational references to suicide and self-harm rather than explicit description. Some readers may be reminded of their own experiences. If you need to talk to someone, I have produced a list of resources here. **
As I’m sure almost all of you are aware, mental health problems can happy to any of us, at any time of the year, but the 10th of October symbolises a great opportunity to show support towards better mental health for others, as well as for yourself.
A mental health problem affects around one in four people every year. This ranges from experiences with anxiety and depression, to being diagnosed with a severe mental disorder.
This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day 2019 is “working together to prevent suicide“.
Behind every statistic, there is a very real and personal story. Every suicide is one too many.
As I mentioned in my ‘World Suicide Prevention Day 2019‘ post – 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.
Every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide. 40 seconds.
From what I understand of suicide and suicidal thoughts, those who experience them and on the unfortunate times that they are acted upon – they don’t want to die. They are just in such intense psychological and emotional pain that they cannot see another alternative. It is a very desperate and absolute decision.
GROUPS MOST AT RISK:
- MEN – are at least three times as vulnerable to death by suicide.
- THOSE INVOLVED IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE/ CHILD WELFARE SYSTEMS – suicide is the single most common cause of death within the criminal justice system. Individuals in the welfare system have often experienced traumatic experiences with very little support offered.
- THOSE WHO HAVE ATTEMPTED SUICIDE BEFORE – there is a greater chance they may attempt to do it again in the future.
- THOSE WHO EXPERIENCE A MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE – 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.
- LGBTQ+ – suicide rates tend to be higher amongst gay/ bisexual males as opposed to lesbian/bisexual women. All included in the LGBTQ+ community are considered at a higher risk.
- THOSE WHO HAVE SELF-HARMED IN THE PAST – whilst self-harming isn’t the same as feeling suicidal, there is an elevated risk of suicide in comparison to those who have never done it.
- THOSE WHO HAVE A LONG-TERM MEDICAL CONDITION – those suffering from chronic pain, cognitive disorders, cancer, terminal and degenerative diseases can predispose individuals to the risk of suicide.
- THOSE WHO 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.
- THOSE WHO 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 parts.
- THOSE WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED TRAUMA – those who have experienced and seen trauma are likely to inflict trauma upon themselves.
- THOSE WHO HAVE SERVED IN THE ARMED FORCES – being on active duty or leaving the service is a peak risk time for suicide in this population.
- THOSE WHO HAVE A SUBSTANCE MISUSE PROBLEM – alcohol and drug addictions are second to depression and mood disorders for the most frequent risk factors for suicide.
- THOSE WHO ARE DIVORCED – the breakdown of a relationship can contribute to the risk of suicide.
Struggling to cope with life doesn’t look or feel the same for everyone…
SIGNS THAT SOMEONE MAY NOT BE OKAY:
- Talking about feeling trapped and/or being in pain.
- Displaying extreme mood swings.
- Being unable to cope with everyday things.
- Not feeling okay, but being unable to put your finger on why.
- Unable to find enjoyment or energy for the things they usually enjoy.
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs and engaging in reckless behaviour.
- Feeling more tired than usual and being unable to concentrate.
- Talking about wanting to die/ looking for ways to kill oneself.
- Being restless and agitated.
- Being emotional, tearful and overwhelmed by negative thoughts.
- Talking about feeling hopeless and having no purpose.
- Displaying anger or talking about seeking revenge.
- Sleeping too much or too little.
- Being withdrawn, stopped replying to messages and feeling isolated.
- Talking about being a burden to others.
SIGNS THAT AN ONLINE FRIEND MAY NOT BE OKAY:
- 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.
- Implying they have no hope for the future.
- They display a preoccupation with death.
- Saying goodbye.
SITUATIONS TO LOOK OUT FOR:
- Loss and bereavement.
- Family problems, abuse or breakdown.
- Bullying and discrimination.
- Urges and acts of self-harm.
- Risk of becoming or being homeless.
- Study-related stress.
- Mental health problems.
- Thoughts, expressions of interest in and attempts of suicide.
- Feelings of self-loathing and low self-esteem.
- Relationship problems, abuse or breakdown.
- Insomnia or sleeping too much.
- Changes in appetite, weight gain or weight loss.
- Alcohol and drug addictions.
- Job-related stress, unemployment, retirement and redundancy.
- No interest in their physical appearance and personal hygiene.
- Debt and financial worries.
- Long-term and terminal health conditions.
- History of trauma or abuse.
- Living alone, loneliness and isolation.
It’s understandable that someone 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!
Don’t be afraid to approach someone, 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.
This World Mental Health Day, please remember 40 seconds of action. Taking 40 seconds out of your day, to send someone a private message or share a message of hope could really help someone without even realising it.
If you are the one whos struggling, why not take 40 seconds to kickstart a conversation with someone you trust about how you are feeling.
If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, why not take 40 seconds to start up a conversation and ask them how they are doing.
If you are an employer, why not take 40 seconds today to send a positive message of support to staff about resources available to them through your workplace or local community in times of distress.
If you have a platform for communicating with a large audience through your social media, why not spend 40 seconds sharing some information about suicide which often goes unspoken about?
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOURSELF:
- Distract yourself. Find coping techniques which work for you. Focus on your senses. Steady your breathing. Look after your needs. Go outside when you feel stuck. Reach out.
- Get in touch with an organisation. I’ve made a list of some here. Talk to someone and discuss your options.
- Reach out and tell someone how you feel, it might help you to feel less alone and more in control.
- 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 past 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.
- 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 YOU CAN DO TO SUPPORT SOMEONE ELSE:
- You can contact an organisation on their behalf. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- If there is talk of suicide, always take it seriously.
- Don’t be discouraged by a negative response. They are 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.
- 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.
- Use open questions when you can. It requires the person to pause, think and reflect and hopefully expand upon what they say and feel.
QUESTIONS TO ASK:
- 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?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Suicides are preventable.