The stigma surrounding suicide can have a devastating effect. Those who experience suicidal thoughts may well not want to talk about it, and if they do open up to someone, that someone might shirk from the matter, not take it seriously, not know how to deal with it or, indeed, not want to. Suicide, though, is not inevitable. Prevention is possible, and you can help.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 800,000 people take their own lives each year. In 2012 it was the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds and, according to a 2014 British government report, it is three times as common in males, with rates highest for those aged 35 to 54. Because of the traditional role masculinity has played in society, explains Sam Challis, information manager at mental health charity Mind, “men are less likely [than women] to talk about their feelings and get support. So it would be more common for a man to take his own life and for nobody to have known there was anything wrong.”
There are, though, warning signs – among them a change in sleeping and eating patterns, lack of energy, increased drug or alcohol abuse and social withdrawal. If you’re concerned that someone might not be coping well, the crucial thing to do is to talk to them. “There is often a spontaneity issue with suicide, so it’s about increasing the time between thought and action,” says Lorna Fraser, media advisor at Samaritans. “If an intervention [can] be made, the likelihood is that the person will be able to go on, they’ll be able to work through their problems and life will start to become better.”
Just showing your support and giving someone space to communicate their feelings can be a huge release for them. Asking directly about suicide may help. It will not push them in the wrong direction. “That is a myth,” says Fraser. “Sometimes being able to actually express that ‘Yeah, actually, I’ve felt so bad that I have thought about taking my own life’ can be a tremendous relief to share.”
Sympathy and support are vital. Guilt trips are not – it is unproductive to tell someone that what they’re thinking is wrong. Challis explains: “[Comments] such as, ‘Think of what it’ll do to your family’ are often very unhelpful because it’s likely that somebody who’s thinking about suicide is already feeling pretty awful about themselves. It is almost irrelevant what the situation is or what the reason is for the person feeling that way, because they do feel that way. If somebody tells you they’re feeling suicidal, then those feelings are real. So try not to judge their reasons, or the feelings themselves, but try to be there, listen and be supportive.”
Ask them how you can help. They might prefer to speak to someone neutral, in which case you can point them in the direction of Samaritans or Mind. Certainly, if someone does tell you that they’re thinking about suicide, don’t take it lightly. If they’re voicing it, it’s likely to be a very real consideration. Contacting their GP with them can be of great value. And if you think somebody is on the verge of taking their own life there and then, call an ambulance. “People shouldn’t be scared to do that,” says Challis. “We hear from people saying they don’t want to waste their time, but if somebody was having a heart attack you wouldn’t think twice about it, and it’s the same thing: it’s somebody’s life at risk.”
There is hope. Just because a suicidal person can’t see a way out of their situation, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to live. Talk is the first step to recovery. You can help.
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