Last Saturday – 10 September is World Suicide Prevention Day. This year, the theme looked at exploring the individual and collective actions – however big or small – that we can use to create hope for ourselves and for others.
How can you help?
If you notice that someone in your life, perhaps a family member, friend, colleague, acquaintance or even a stranger, is struggling to cope and you are worried about their mental health, there are a number of ways you can offer support:
- Reach out and start a conversation. It might sound simple, but ask them if they are okay. Encourage them to tell you their story. You will not make things worse by asking but you may well give the person hope that someone is connecting with them, that someone cares.
- Take them seriously. If they are having thoughts of suicide, it’s important to take them seriously. They may struggle to ask for help because they are ashamed or they might think that they don’t deserve it or that they don’t believe that anyone can help them.
- You do not have to have solutions. The most effective thing you can do is connect with them by listening, without interrupting, without jumping in to give advice, without talking about yourself. Give them your full attention. Listen and reflect what you are hearing with compassion, no judgement, and with kindness.
- Encourage them to get help. Knowing which mental health resources and services are available, or where to find that information, is helpful. The Heads Together campaign is a great place to start, and remember that Shout 85258 text messaging support service is available 24/7.
- Encourage them to call 999 if you think their life is at imminent risk. Or if they are unable to help themselves, you can contact the emergency services on their behalf.
By reaching out to the people in our lives who we think might be struggling with their mental health, we can provide a vital moment of connection and, ultimately, hope.
Signs to look out for:
Everyone copes and reacts in their own way, but here are some general signs to look out for. For some people, several of these signs might apply – for others just one or two, or none.
- Feeling restless and agitated
- Feeling angry and aggressive
- Feeling tearful
- Being tired or lacking in energy
- Not wanting to talk to or be with people
- Not wanting to do things they usually enjoy
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings
- Finding it hard to cope with everyday things
- Not replying to messages or being distant
- Talking about feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless
- Talking about feeling trapped by life circumstances they can’t see a way out of, or feeling unable to escape their thoughts
- A change in routine, such as sleeping or eating more or less than normal
- Engaging in risk-taking behaviour, like gambling or violence
Debunking myths about suicide
The Samaritans have pulled together some debunked myths to help you understand the facts:
Myth: You can’t ask someone if they’re suicidal
Fact: Evidence shows asking someone if they’re suicidal could protect them. Asking someone if they’re having suicidal thoughts can give them permission to tell you how they feel and let them know they are not a burden.
Myth: You can only call Samaritans if you’re suicidal
Myth: People who talk about suicide aren’t serious and won’t go through with it.
Fact: People who die by suicide have often told someone that they do not feel life is worth living or that they have no future. Some may have actually said they want to die.
It’s possible that someone might talk about suicide as a way of getting attention, in the sense of calling out for help.
It’s important to always take someone seriously if they talk about feeling suicidal. Helping them get the support they need could save their life.
The majority of people who feel suicidal do not actually want to die – they just want the situation they’re in or the way they’re feeling to stop.
Myth: If a person is serious about killing themselves then there’s nothing you can do.
Fact: Often, feeling actively suicidal is temporary, even if someone has been feeling low, anxious or struggling to cope for a long period of time. Getting the right kind of support at the right time is so important. In a situation where someone is having suicidal thoughts, be patient, stay with them and just let them know you’re there. Remember, if you think it’s an emergency or someone has tried to harm themselves- call 999
Myth: You have to be mentally ill to think about suicide.
Fact: 1 in 5 people have thought about suicide at some time in their life. And not all people who die by suicide have mental health problems at the time they die.
However, many people who die by suicide have struggled with their mental health, typically to a serious degree. This may or may not be known before the person’s death.
Myth: People who are suicidal want to die.
Fact: The majority of people who feel suicidal do not actually want to die; they just want the situation they’re in or the way they’re feeling to stop. The distinction may seem small, but it is very important. It’s why talking through other options at the right time is so vital.
Myth: Talking about suicide is a bad idea as it may give someone the idea to try it.
Fact: Suicide can be a taboo topic. Often, people who are feeling suicidal don’t want to worry or burden anyone with how they feel and so they don’t discuss it.
But, by asking someone directly about suicide, you give them permission to tell you how they feel. People who are struggling or have felt suicidal will often say what a huge relief it was to be able to talk about what they were experiencing.
Once someone starts talking, they’ve got a better chance of discovering options that aren’t suicide.
Evidence shows asking someone if they’re suicidal can protect them. They feel listened to, and hopefully less trapped. Their feelings are validated, and they know that somebody cares about them. Reaching out can save a life.
Rory O’Connor, Professor of Health Psychology at Glasgow University
Myth: Most suicides happen in the winter months.
Fact: Suicide is complex, and it’s not just related to the seasons and the climate being hotter or colder, and having more or less light. In general, suicide is more common in the spring, and there’s a noticeable peak in risk on New Year’s Day.
Myth: People who say they are going to take their own life are just attention seeking and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Fact: Talking openly about suicide to a loved one, colleague, professional or a Samaritan can help someone work through their thoughts and help them find a way to cope. People who say they want to end their lives should always be taken seriously. It may well be that they want attention in the sense of calling out for help and helping them get support may save their life. Being able to talk openly about suicide can help someone work through their thoughts and have a better chance of discovering options that aren’t suicide.
Myth: You can’t tell when someone is feeling suicidal
Fact: Suicide is complex and how people act when they’re struggling to cope is different for everyone. Sometimes there are signs someone might be going through a difficult time or having difficult thoughts. For some people, several signs might apply – for others just one or two, or none. Find out more on how to spot the signs that someone may not be OK.
Looking after yourself
Supporting someone who is struggling can be distressing – especially if that person is in danger of taking their own life or harming themselves.
It’s important for you to make sure you’re okay too. Give yourself time to rest and process what’s happened. Remember that it’s okay to decide that you are no longer able to help someone and to let them know you won’t be contactable for a while.
Oxleas Mental Health Crisis Line: 0800 330 8590 (24 hour service)
Samaritans: Call 116 123 (24 hour service)
SHOUT: – Text SHOUT to 85258 (24 hour service)