Today, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day. This day, conceived by the International Association for Suicide Prevention, aims to bring awareness to the many lives lost annually to suicide and how we might help reduce this number.
In the UK, the statistics are grim. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 45 and in England and Wales, the suicide rate for women under the age of 25 has risen by nearly 94% in the last seven years. So when we talk about “suicide prevention” what do we mean? How can we, as a society reduce suicide?
Help to reduce suicidal stigma
Suicide attempt survivors often face ridicule and shame after surviving a suicide attempt. They are often told they were “crying wolf” or “attention-seeking.” This kind of talk is prevalent not only in peer groups and families but also shockingly comes from healthcare professionals who are charged with the care of those who have attempted suicide.
One statistic shows that with young people, for every 200 attempts there is one suicide. This means that we need to be taking every attempt seriously. Those who have survived a suicide attempt need care and compassion, not judgement or ridicule. We need to ensure we are listening to those who are struggling and to not centre ourselves and our feelings when speaking with loved ones about suicide.
We owe it to those we care about to take their mental health seriously. Suicide attempts are not ploys for attention, they are often cries for help. Show those you care about that you are listening and leave your judgement at the door.
Don’t be afraid to talk about it
There is a myth that if we talk about suicide, we increase the likelihood of suicide. However, there is no evidence to back this up. In fact, talking about self-harm and suicide can actually reduce the risk of suicidal ideation or an attempt.
It’s important to help people to feel safe when they speak with you. That you not be alarmist or say things like, “you’re scaring me”, if someone does share that they are having thoughts of suicide. Let people know you are there to support them and try not to make any judgments. If you are feeling like you are not the best person to speak with, it’s always OK to refer someone to a suicide hotline or mental health professional.
Be conscientious in your interactions on social media
One way we can all help protect each other’s mental health is to ensure we are being kind to each other online. It’s common to get annoyed or frustrated with some of the opinions and posts you might see on Twitter or Facebook, but refusing to respond or react is one way you can safeguard your own mental health as well as the mental health of others.
Of course, social media isn’t all bad, but the key to keeping yourself safe is using social media conscientiously. Of course, you don’t have to agree with everything people post, but being selective about how you engage is key. There are bots and trolls out there creating content designed to inflame emotions and cause pain, especially at this unprecedented time in history. Don’t take the bait!
Schedule time away from your phone to take a walk or shut off your laptop and get stuck into a book for a bit to ensure you have the time and space to decompress after prolonged screen time.
Be compassionate in your interactions with others
We know not all things we see on social media are real, but the people you come into contact with each day are. We all need to be more aware of how our energy and behaviour can impact others.
Treating people with kindness should not be a challenge, but it can be sometimes. The easiest way to start is by trying to cultivate compassion for yourself. See yourself as human and flawed and know that you are doing your best. Now try and extend this feeling to those around you. The person who just cut you off on the road, the guy that didn’t hold the door for you, the woman at work that snubbed you in the meeting. All of these individuals are massively flawed humans like you. Even if you don’t believe this, try and think to yourself that they are doing the best they can.
This is not to say you should allow people to abuse or mistreat you, but we all have to understand that we are unique, beautiful and special and just because we would handle a situation one way or do something a certain way doesn’t mean everyone will. The more we see people as just people and the less we judge, the more pleasant our interactions with others will be and a more compassionate world we’ll all live in.
Recognise the warning signs and take them seriously
If someone you know has become withdrawn or is isolating themself, or if you notice a change in behaviour, speak with them about it. As we’ve already discussed, talking about things doesn’t make them worse. If someone you know or love talks about suicide, take them seriously. Offer to help them find support and don’t feel like you have to handle all of this on your own.
Know you are not alone
If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to someone. There is no shame in asking for help or in sharing how you feel. There are people who love and care about you who want to support you, even if you don’t feel like this is true, it is. You are never “bothering” anyone and you are not a burden. You are important, worthy of love and we want you to survive.