One of the biggest fears around suicide is our fear of asking about it.
When I first set up Forward For Life working in the field of suicide prevention, my youngest child would find it hard to get his head around what I did. After seeing “The Incredibles” and the scene where Mr. Incredible saves a mans’ life from jumping off a tower block, he thought that’s what I did. It was hard for me to tell him the truth, after-all, every Dad wants to be a super-hero; or at least a rocket scientist. But unfortunately I am neither.
Late 2015, I found myself sitting unexpectedly on the BBC Breakfast Red Sofa opposite Naga Munchetty. I had been called up last minute.com to sit alongside a young Dublin chap named Jamie Harrington who at the age of 15 walked over to a man standing precariously close to the edge of a bridge and asked him “Are you O.K?” The conversation between Jamie and the man led to that man stepping back from the bridge and being alive today.
When I talked about the importance of talking to people who may have suicidal thoughts, Naga said “but you’re a specialist?” – this is even in spite of the very fact that the young man sitting next to me that morning, who was not a “specialist” had, just through the means of a conversation saved a mans’ life.
Day in, day out I engage with articles, reports, reviews, research and all manner of suicide related social media messages in a range of formats to keep myself up to speed with what is happening in the world of suicide prevention – after all, it’s my job. But preventing suicide is not something that requires a “specialist” knowledge. It is not rocket science and should never be touted as such. Neither is it just something that sits squarely in the domain of the academic world nor the clinical world.
Effective suicide prevention should not view the individual as the problem. But there is something about society and societies perceived fear of the challenge of suicide. If we are going to point the finger of blame, we maybe need to consider pointing the finger at ourselves first.
So, these are the “facts” as I see it:
1) Suicidal thought is human. It is not a direct result of mental illness but is certainly a result of crisis – A crisis so extreme for the individual with suicidal thoughts that they at that moment may not be able to see any other option. Obviously, you could argue that having suicidal thoughts means that their mental health is not good but many people with a mental illness do not attempt suicide and many people without a diagnosed mental health problem…DO.
2) Conversation is key and fear of that conversation is the barrier – We need to ask people if they are O.K. We also need to ask people if they are thinking of ending their life. If we don’t ask the question and don’t have the conversation, then we are in effect doing nothing to reduce the likely-hood of a suicide being completed.
3) Be straight up – Skirting around the edges of the possibility of suicide in a fluffy and non-direct way will mean that most people with thoughts of suicide will not open up. They will instead see you as playing no role in their final decision around suicide – therefore, we need to say it as we see it. We need to be direct and get to the point, after all a life may be at risk here.
4) Without a conversation about suicide many people will die by suicide. With the conversation, some people will still die by suicide. But at least you had the conversation. At the end of the day, there will always be suicide, however, we need to present people with opportunity to find hope in living.
5) You are not there to fix them. Many people with thoughts of suicide, given the time, the space and a non-judgmental opportunity for open dialogue will find their own solutions in keeping themselves safe. They just need a supportive hand to make their solutions come to fruition.
6) Suicide is everyone’s responsibility – For a second, forget all the statistics about people with suicidal thoughts and the likely-hood of them being in touch with mental health services, criminal justice, Doctors etc…. Just hold onto this statistic – 100% of all people that take their own life lived in a community. Therefore…it’s down to all of us. Simple.
7) We are not super-heroes, nor rocket scientists – and nor do we need to be.
If you are concerned about somebody or you are struggling and need someone to talk to then contact Samaritans – Telephone: 116123
Written by Terry Rigby (2016)
Company Director – Forward For Life
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