Trigger warning – suicide
Having been suicidal, lost someone to suicide and helped people who are suicidal, it’s incredibly important to me that we talk about suicide. We need to practice saying the word so it’s no longer taboo. We need to get familiar with what we can do to help people rather than keeping it secretive and turning a blind eye. As with all mental health issues, I strongly believe we need to talk about it.
World Suicide Prevention Day is held each year on 10 September. It’s an annual awareness raising event organised by International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
This year’s theme is about understanding the impact that reaching out to people at risk can have in preventing suicide, and ultimately saving lives.
Over 800,000 people die from suicide across the world each year (WHO report) although this is likely to be an underestimate.
I have heard people say many things about suicide but from those who haven’t been suicidal something that comes up repeatedly is that it’s selfish. I understand that these may be people who are grieving and going through natural stages of anger etc but suicide is not selfish.
If you have been suicidal, you know that it feels like your only choice. You are in so much incredible pain, suffering or are intensely numb that you can’t see a way to continue. There may be other reasons you feel like this. I am not in any way saying this is an extensive list of reasons why someone might consider suicide.
I just know that I’ve been there. And it wasn’t selfish. I was in agonising despair. I couldn’t see anyone around me. I didn’t want to burden anyone. That, to me at the time, felt selfish. Suicide didn’t. It felt like my only choice, my only way out of an intensely horrible situation. I felt like there was no way I could continue to feel the way I did. I felt like no one cared.
I was at a point where I was unable to reach out and ask for help. And having someone ask me genuinely what was wrong, or notice that things weren’t good would have helped me start to see that people were there and did care. I think I did want people to know but I couldn’t tell them myself.
I didn’t reach the point of attempting intentional suicide – let me explain, I wasn’t implementing a plan but I wasn’t looking when I crossed roads etc. I didn’t reach that point because my maladjusted coping mechanisms kicked in and numbed out the horrendous feelings. Essentially, as twisted as it sounds, anorexia saved me from suicide. But that’s a whole different story!
Losing someone to suicide
And I’ve been on the other side. I lost a friend, Jon, a couple of years ago. It is a hard loss to deal with. In some ways it feels more complex than death due to illness or old age. You are left asking yourself so many questions – what could I have done? Why didn’t I do x or say y? Why didn’t he tell me? What if…?
At some point after, his brother was looking through his phone and saw I’d been texting him a lot (his family didn’t realise we were still in contact) and got in touch to let me know if I wanted to talk to his family I could do. Which felt like a huge gesture. But the thing that sticks in my mind was when his brother told me that he understood Jon’s choice. He understood why he had done it. And when I feel angry or frustrated about Jon’s death, I remember that and it helps to bring me closer to peace.
If you have lost someone as a result of suicide, make sure you get the support you need. Grief is always difficult and it’s important to keep talking to family and friends but you may also need some more formal support. In the UK, you may want to reach out to Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide.
What can you do if you know someone is suicidal?
“The act of showing care and concern to someone who may be vulnerable to suicide can be a game-changer. Asking them whether they are OK, listening to what they have to say in a non-judgmental way, and letting them know you care, can all have a significant impact. Isolation increases the risk of suicide, and, conversely, having strong social connections is protective against it, so being there for someone who has become disconnected can be life-saving.” – www.iasp.info/wspd/
The Samaritans have advice about starting a difficult conversation. And it probably will be difficult but it’s probably a darn sight easier for you to reach out than for the other person to ask for help.
Please be aware, you are not responsible for someone else’s feelings or actions. And it is vital that you look after yourself as well. You can’t always be available for your friend or family member so ensure they have information about helplines and encourage them to seek more formal support.
What can you do if you are feeling suicidal?
Tell someone. Anyone.
Helplines are one option, in the UK there is the Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) amongst others. Friends and family are another option. And healthcare professionals. Or other professionals or church members or anyone else you feel able to talk to. Tell twitter or facebook (preferably as well as telling someone specific but if you can’t manage that then social media is better than nothing).
If you feel at immediate risk of harming yourself, you can go to A&E or ring 999 (in the UK).