The word “crisis” in itself is quite an emotive word. For me anyway, when I think of “crisis”, my first image used to be things like panic, immediacy, and fear. It’s defined as “a time of intense difficulty or danger” – this sums it up fairly well, but in this definition there’s no mention of panic or fear – it’s an assumption. While these emotions are commonly present in a person experiencing a crisis, this is not always how that person can present to someone who’s talking to them.
Then, the word “suicide” is also not only an emotive word, but a stigmatised one. We are frequently reluctant to say this word and there’s also a fear of using it, of acknowledging it. I feel this can often be the case for anyone involved; the person themselves, friends and family talking to them about it, as well as professionals involved in their care.
When we then take the phrase “suicide crisis”, this can be a phrase which strikes fear into those involved. But if we’re afraid of the phrase, how can we discuss it openly with someone who is feeling this way? I think it’s really important to be mindful of how a person is experiencing a suicide crisis and how they construe their crisis. While there may be some overlap between people and how they present, there’s fairly often some variance, distinctions, and even contradictions in protective, predisposing etc. factors (e.g., one person’s protective factor could be another person’s precipitating factor).
For me, this interpretation of a suicide crisis makes it all the more important that I ask every person I see not only how they feel, but how they interpret their suicide crisis, what is contributing to it or preventing them from acting on their thoughts, and what made them now want to opt into our crisis pathway.
Within this, I think it’s important to address the person’s experience suicide crisis directly – I’ve discovered that something that may seem as simple as asking a question is such a powerful tool, and even though those questions can at times be difficult to ask and respond to, in the end they usually allow both me and the person I’m working with to work from the same page. Clarity is so important because if we work based on assumptions and implications then there is a lot more room for us to misjudge what the person seeking support is experiencing.
This is but one of the reasons why we shouldn’t shy away from phrases like “suicide crisis”. It’s ok to ask about suicide, and it’s ok to talk about it. At Harmless and The Tomorrow Project, we may be the professionals working with the people, but the people are the experts when it comes to their own thoughts, feelings and crisis. Our job is to listen and to help facilitate change if that person feels ready, not to force people into recovery.
If you feel like you need support around issues relating to self-harm or suicide including being bereaved by suicide, please feel free to contact either Harmless (0115 934 8445) or The Tomorrow Project (0115 934 8447, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) and we will try our best to start supporting you.