Today, the 10th of September 2016, welcomes World Suicide Prevention day! The World Health Organisation estimates that over 800,000 people die by suicide each year – that’s one person every 40 seconds and up to 25 times as many make a suicide attempt. This is happening in spite of the fact that suicide is preventable. By simply being aware of the symptoms of depression and anxiety or suicidal thoughts you could be there to prevent someone close to you from becoming a part of this dreadful statistic.
‘Connect, communicate, care’ is the theme of this year’s day; three words that stand at the heart of suicide prevention.
Creating connections with those who have lost a loved one to suicide or have been suicidal themselves is crucial to furthering suicide prevention efforts. Although every individual suicide is different, there are some common lessons to be learned. Those who have been on the brink of suicide themselves can help us understand the complexities of events and circumstances that led them to that point, and what saved them or helped them to choose a more life-affirming course of action. Those who have lost someone to suicide, or supported someone who was suicidal, can provide insights into how they moved forwards on their journey. The sheer numbers of people who have been affected by suicide would make this a formidable network.
Of course, these connections should be two-way. There will often be times when those who have been bereaved by suicide, and those who might be feeling suicidal themselves, need support. Keeping an eye out for them and checking that they are okay could make all the difference. Social connectivity reduces the risk of suicide, so being there for someone who has become disconnected can be a life-saving act. Individuals, organisations and communities all have a responsibility here.
Open communication is vital if we are to combat suicide. In many communities, suicide is shrouded in silence or spoken of only in hushed tones. We need to discuss suicide as we would any other public health issue if we are to dispel myths about it and reduce the stigma surrounding it.
Broaching the subject of suicide is difficult, and these sorts of conversations are often avoided. There are some simple tips that can help, however. Most of these relate to showing compassion and empathy, and listening in a non-judgemental way. People who have come through an episode of extreme suicidal thinking often say that sensitively-managed conversations with others helped them on their course to recovery. If you don’t know what to say, then don’t say anything, you would be surprised at just how often people feel better just knowing someone is there to listen to what they have to say.
All the connecting and communicating in the world will have no effect without the final ingredient – care. We need to make sure that policy-makers and planners care enough about suicide prevention to make it a priority, and to fund it at a level that is commensurate with its significance as a public health problem.
We need to make sure that clinicians and other service providers care enough about it to make suicide prevention their core business. And we need to make sure that communities care enough about it to be able to identify and support those who may be at heightened risk.
Most of all, we need to ensure that we are caring ourselves. We need to look out for others who may be struggling, and let them tell their story in their own way and at their own pace. Those who have been affected by suicide have much to teach us in this regard.
So today, see your friends and your family. Connect with them. Communicate with them. And care for them.
Check in on someone you may be concerned about, and start a caring conversation with them, asking them how they’re going. Investigate ways of connecting with others who are trying to prevent suicide in your community, your country, or internationally.
Show your support for each other, show your support for mental health.