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Suicide is never a comfortable subject to talk about – but anyone can feel suicidal or experience suicidal thoughts, for myriad different reasons. By opening up about it, and allowing others to do the same, we can play a part in the global campaign to reduce suicide rates.
On 10 September each year, organisations around the world join together to raise awareness of how suicide can be prevented. Organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), the theme of this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day is ‘Creating hope through action’, which explores the ways we can “become a beacon of light to those in pain”.
Before we go any further, it’s important to say that if you're in crisis yourself and require urgent support, please dial 999 or go to your nearest A&E. Alternatively , if you experience thoughts or feelings about not wanting to be alive, you can speak to the Samaritans in confidence 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling free on 116 123.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 700,000 people across the globe take their own lives each year, while many more attempt to do so. The WHO website points out that while the link between suicide and mental disorders is well established, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis due to life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-ups or chronic pain and illness.
While talking about suicide is a lot more accepted than it used to be, when it was often ‘brushed under the carpet’, there can still be a certain stigma around the subject. This means it can be difficult for people to open up when they’re struggling , as they may feel shame or judgement from others.
So what could you do if you’re worried that someone you know might be considering suicide, or if a friend or family member has reached out to you for help? If you’re happy to talk to them and offer support, the first step is to try and find out where they’re at.
Start a conversation. The aim is to get them talking, give them permission to explore how they feel, and establish whether they want or need help. Don’t be afraid that broaching the topic might put ideas in their head: this won’t trigger any suicidal thoughts, but it could prevent someone following through with them.
Ask what sort of help they’d like at this moment. Some people will just want to be listened to, while others will need help with solving a problem, or with accessing some kind of formal support or treatment.
Think about the best course of action. It’s important to remember that it’s not your responsibility to provide a solution, but you may well be able to help someone find the right avenue of support. This might involve simply finding an appropriate helpline number and encouraging them to call it.
Thoughts like ‘I can’t take this any more’ or ‘It would be easier if I wasn’t here’ can pop into our head when we’re tired, stressed, upset or ill, or can be a symptom of depression. They’re usually just fleeting, and we don’t intend to act on them. If this is the case with the person you’re talking to – or they’re struggling, but you don’t believe they’re in immediate danger – you could encourage them to make an appointment with their GP to discuss the difficulties that led to the thoughts, and possible treatments.
You could suggest exploring options for solving their problems together – you might be able to bring a fresh perspective, and help them focus on taking practical steps. Someone who’s in debt might benefit from speaking to the Money and Pensions Service, for instance.
If the person you’re helping tells you they’ve made a plan to end their life, or you suspect that’s the case, this needs addressing more urgently. Try to get them to make an emergency GP appointment, or call NHS 111. If they’re extremely agitated or distressed, or you think there’s a risk they’ll take action to end their life, call 999, or contact their crisis team directly if they’re already with a secondary mental health service.
Not all suicides can be prevented, however hard we try. Some people display no signs at all that they’re having suicidal thoughts. Others won’t talk about it in case someone tries to stops them. If this happens, we should never blame ourselves.
Helping someone who is suicidal can be incredibly difficult, and could have a major impact on you. You might find you need support, too. These resources from the Samaritans and the NHS might come in useful, while cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) might help you manage if you’re feeling anxious or down.
Useful helpline numbers:
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