There. I said it.
Yet, despite the fact that more than 6000 people across the UK and ROI die by suicide every year, so many of us don’t.
This morning, as I sat with a cup of tea reading the local news, I came across sadly familiar phrases in a news article: “fallen from a railway bridge”; “no suspicious circumstances”; “if you are affected by the issues in this story, call Samaritans on 116 123”. I initially felt incredibly sad for the gentleman who died, his family and friends, the train driver and any other witnesses, and the emergency services. Then, I found myself getting annoyed. Why, in this day and age of sharing our thoughts and feelings more than ever before, are many of us still not saying the seemingly-still-taboo word: “Suicide”? Or even “taking one’s life” or “killing oneself”? Is it a secret? Are we scared to say it? Does it makes it seem… Real?
Well, it is real. It is scary. And we can help to prevent it, if we would only talk about it.
Now before I continue, I am aware that the media are reporting celebrity suicides more than they ever did before. This is a good start, and it is helping to open up the dialogue that everyone – no matter how perfect their life may seem – is vulnerable. The tragic losses of Love Island’s Mike Thalassitis and The Prodigy’s Keith Flint to suicide within the last month are just a handful of examples of this. However, this often isn’t the case for us ‘everyday folk’, such as the news article I read this morning. I am not, for one minute, suggesting that the family should have to identify the person, speak to the media about how they feel, nor do methods or locations need to be discussed in any form of detail as this is not considerate reporting of suicide, as it can pose a danger to the grieving relatives and other vulnerable people due to suicide contagion (Samaritans Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide). But, the simple word ‘suicide’ is rarely mentioned for everyday people other than in high-profile cases, and it is glossed over by implying that they simply fell, died in their sleep, or were in an accident. What does this do for opening a dialogue on suicide, other than suggesting that it’s unsavoury language and can’t be mentioned? (Conversely, media reporting of celebrity suicides occurs, but can sometimes go to the others end of the spectrum and speculate simplistic causes, talk in detail about methods, and glorify suicide; against the Samaritans Guidelines for Reporting Celebrity Deaths).
I attended an ASIST 2-day Course on Suicide Intervention Skills this week (through Mind Matters in Barnsley), which may be why it is on my mind more this morning. Despite thinking that I talk about suicide quite openly, one step of the intervention framework (The ‘Pathway for Assisting Life’) had two words in it: “Ask; Suicide”. It made me stop and think. How many times have we actually asked someone who we are worried about “Have you been thinking about suicide?” On the other hand, how many times have we said things like “But you’re doing okay, aren’t you?” Or “But look at all of the good things you’ve got in your life!” Or “You’re not thinking of doing anything stupid, are you?” (How would you feel opening up to someone someone who has just called your thoughts in your darkest moments ‘stupid’?)
When we dance around the subject, and don’t use the word “suicide” (or a close derivative such as “ending your life” or “killing yourself”), as well intentioned as we are, we perpetuate the myth that suicide is not okay to talk about. When in reality, talking to someone about suicide is often enough to help someone come out of the spiral; it has been said that just 20 minutes is enough to bring someone back from then brink. The old adage is appropriate here: This Too Shall Pass. The feelings do pass, and this is the key time to talk to someone, as suicide is often (although I appreciate not always) an impulsive act when someone is in despair – and many survivors of suicide have said they regretted their actions as soon as it was too late to go back. But to normalise talking about suicide, we need to see talking about it normalised; and this includes using the word (sensitively) in both local and national media.
There are many organisations out there trying to encourage talking about suicide. Aside from the wonderful work from organisations such as Samaritans, PAPYRUS, and CALM, there are international organisations such as ASIST providing training, national charities such as Grassroots Suicide Prevention providing both training and signposting services, and local organisations such as Liam Jones Legacy (the founder of which I met at the ASIST training; they work extremely hard to encourage people to talk about suicide, provide a listening ear, and signpost to relevant organisations no matter where in the country you are). More of this, please!
Suicide is not a dirty word. Despite the abundance of ‘risk factors’ and stereotyping out there, we are all vulnerable no matter our age, gender, employment status, or socioeconomic status. If you’re worried about someone, don’t be afraid to ask them “Are you thinking about suicide?” If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to open up – either to friends/family or a professional organisation – that you are thinking about suicide. Talking about suicide saves lives. It’s OK Not To Be OK.
If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide right now and wants to talk, please visit my I Need Help Now page for a list of places you can turn to if you feel you can’t talk to any friends or family about how you feel.
If you would like to book an appointment, please visit my Book an Appointment page.