Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.
A day that is getting increasingly important with the rise of anxiety and depression resulting from COVID-19.
Many people feel that suicide is a scary and deeply sad topic and, as a result, much needed conversation around depression and suicide is often avoided. This is understandable – suicide is a scary topic and heartbreakingly sad – but it is perfectly okay to feel uncomfortable. However, in order to prevent the figures from continually rising, we need to start talking about it – openly and without judgement.
The statistics show that suicide figures are increasing, year upon year. In 2018 there were 6,154 suicides in Great Britain. This means that more than 16 people per day took their life, in Great Britain alone. Not only that, but it is estimated that 10—25 times that number attempted suicide within the space of that year (ref: 1,2).
Suicide is completely preventable. With the right support at the right time, things can always get better. Unfortunately, the issue is that people are 1) not reaching out for support and 2) when they do, the support is not always there. So, how can we change that? How can we increase the likelihood of people reaching out and how can we improve the efficiency and quality of support that is received?
Well, those are some huge questions that cannot be fully answered in just a LinkedIn article or a website blog, but they are questions that need to be answered. My take on these questions are as follows.
1. How can we increase the likelihood of people reaching out?
We need to improve the quality of the conversations we are having around mental health and suicide. Mental health has become the buzzword over the last few years and we are getting much better at talking about it comfortably and openly… but there is still a long way to go.
What if, instead of messaging a friend on WhatsApp, we reached out and called them? What if, when we asked them how they were, we really asked and really listened? And what if, when they told us things were bad, we didn’t try to sugarcoat it? Imagine if we didn’t try to soothe and, instead, we just listened.
So many of us love a bit of problem solving. We all love making our friends and family smile… but, as a result we often forget to validate their emotions. When someone shares things are really hard for them, we often try to add a bit of sparkle and remind them of the silver lining.
The conversation might go like this:
“Things are really tough at work, I just can’t handle this stress anymore”… and in the bid to try and improve their mood, we say: “At least you’ve still got a job at the moment. That’s great news.”… And, just like that, we invalidate their feelings and often shut down the conversation – without even meaning to.
What if, instead, we said: ‘You must feel really overwhelmed right now. It’s understandable to want relief from the stress. What’s going on for you at work at the moment?’ and we just listened, and validated, and then listened some more. Maybe we could ask open and non-judgemental questions and then – listen some more.
We don’t always need to soothe and solve; it makes one hell of a difference when a person just feels they are truly listened to, and truly understood.
2. How can we improve the efficiency and quality of support that is received?
This question poses a whole new level of difficulties that will require – at the very least – a bunch of government reforms, increased parity in esteem for mental health and improved services throughout the NHS. But, that aside, we mustn’t forget that there is a vast amount of support available if we look outside of the NHS.
For anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, my first port of call is to always recommend visiting their GP, but – more often than not – the quality of support received is not enough to prevent the problem from escalating. But – thankfully – outside of the world of the NHS and GPs, there are multiple charitable organisations that are available and able to help. A fantastic, comprehensive list can be found here.
One of these incredible mental health charities is known as Shout. I am a volunteer with Shout on the Crisis Text Line, and it always surprises me how many people have never heard of Shout.
Even though awareness of this text line is still growing, during the average week; the c2,000 active volunteers take around 6,800 conversations with 4,800 Texters. These texts can vary in subjects from stress to self-harm, or from abuse to suicide.
Research by Shout has found that one of the reasons many people don’t reach out for support is because they worry that their issues or concerns are not sufficiently ‘bad’ enough to merit contacting Shout. Many texters worry that they are wasting our time, believing that we have ‘more important’ people to talk to.
And – herein lies the problem. Because we don’t feel like our concerns are worthy of support, we often ignore our problems while the water around us is rising. We often wait until the water is so high, our heads are barely above the surface. Or worse, we wait until we go under.
It is important to understand that the Shout text service, just like every other mental health support service, is open to all and we are there for you when you are experiencing anxiety, depression, bullying, self harm, addiction or any relationship problems that are impacting your mental health.
There is help available, but – more often than not – we wait. We remember the bad stories we’ve heard about the NHS, we deny our feelings or we tell ourselves that no one can help us… but this is not true. The beauty of this new digital world is that help comes in so many forms… just Google “mental health crisis” and your internet browser will be flooded with options. There is help available and there is always a way forward… even if you just take a baby step today, and then another small step the next day… there will always be a way forward.
So, I will leave you with this…
“Imagine you are in a pool with the water rising – the time to reach out for help is then and not when you are drowning.”
Reach out to Shout
By texting the word ‘SHOUT’ to 85258 you will start a conversation with a trained Shout Volunteer, who will text you back and forth, sharing only what you feel comfortable with. Shout volunteers will work with you to take your next steps towards feeling better.
Shout will always try to respond to texters as quickly as possible, however our responses will be longer at times of high demand. We will always respond to high risk texters as a priority. If you are at imminent risk call 999 and if you need another form of support, please review other support agencies here – https://www.headstogether.org.uk/get-support/.
If you’re interested in training in the vital suicide prevention skills that could help keep someone alive, check out our Suicide First Aid courses here, and learn how you can become a very important part of the solution.
- Office for National Statistics. Suicides in the UK: 2018 registrations [Internet]. 2019. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2018registrations
- World Health Organization. Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative [Internet]. 2014. Available from: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/131056/1/9789241564779_eng.pdf
- Shout: https://giveusashout.org/get-help/