Think of a group of 20 people you know. Friends or family, work colleagues or social gathering. One of that 20 will have suicidal thoughts at some time in the year. And any of us could help by just being aware of the signs and showing we care. You, yes you, could save someone’s life.
Globally, every 3 seconds someone commits suicide. I million per year. That is more than all the deaths by war and murder combined. Many more attempts are unsuccessful. 84 men take their own lives in the UK per week, three times that of road deaths. Although male deaths outnumber women’s considerably, many more women attempt suicide but are unsuccessful. Anyone of us could be at risk, given the right circumstances, regardless of age, race, gender or status. Even deaths of under 10s are now not unheard of.
Despite these shocking statistics, many people are unsympathetic. Several myths and beliefs are bandied about, such as that an attempt on one’s life is cowardly, attention-seeking or an easy way out. These misinformed attitudes are unhelpful and obviously ignorant of the “continuum of suicide” that, when interrupted in the right way, might prevent a suicide attempt.
Psychological autopsy research, interviewing relatives or colleagues after a suicide, has shown that on reflection warning signs were there but not picked up or acted on. The downward spiral begins with occasional, then more frequent, thoughts of if and how to carry it out, then contemplation of methods and practicalities. This could evolve over days, weeks or months and previous attempts will have only added to the expertise.
What you should look out for.
At any point along this ambivalent path, intervention by someone who cares could stop that person in their tracks and prevent them going any further. Here are the signs to look out for:
• sleep problems
• loss of interest in what matters, disconnection
• extreme self-hate/low self-esteem
• not belonging
• extreme self-denial, no pleasure in life
• the feeling of being a burden to others
• mood change for the better when finally resolved to end life
Many of us will have felt some of these emotions at tough times in life, but it only takes them all to build up, at the same time as other circumstances, to have someone reach their tipping point. Sadly some will show no signs and others will act almost on impulse. This logical end to their pain will appear the only way forward. Often this will be a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Luckily, most will still be ambivalent about their suicide right up to the final moment.
What you can do.
At this point, some gentle intervention may be all that is needed. Offering an alternative solution to their troubles may be all it takes to sway them from their fatal path.
• Engage eye contact, show care and empathy
• ask if they are considering suicide
• ask for reasons
• assess the situation, by asking their plan and if they have tried before
• erring on the side of caution, look for positives and coping strategies
• develop a plan with realistic objectives
• make a backup plan, suggesting support such as counselling or contacting the Samaritans.
The simple act of lending a listening ear and a friendly face may be enough to tip the balance between life and death for that one in twenty in your circle. You do not have to be a qualified professional to show you care about a fellow human being. Many official charities and support networks exist to help once that first step has been taken away from the terminal track – after you have been that person’s personal superhero!
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
By Dorothy Parker
For more information:
Charlie Waller Memorial Trust – https://www.cwmt.org.uk/
Childline – https://www.childline.org.uk/
Papyrus – https://www.papyrus-uk.org/
Living Works – https://www.livingworks.net/
Grassroots Suicide Prevention App – http://www.prevent-suicide.org.uk/
Elefriends – a supportive online community – https://www.elefriends.org.uk/
Action for Happiness – http://www.actionforhappiness.org/