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Suicide awareness - how can I help?

This is a topic that is sadly always actual and it deeply saddens me, as a person and as a mental health professional. Right now it is even more so, because the passing of Caroline Flack gets more media attention. Any death is a great loss for family, friends but suicide is something that can be tragic, sudden and devastating. It can happen to ANYONE, ANYWHERE and it is the biggest killer for people under 40. We are taught in risk management and suicide awareness trainings how males tend to be more at risk statistically, as females don't always go ahead with what was planned. Sometimes statistics are not correct so we are vigilant.


I have to say, I just look at the person when assessing how they feel about suicide or self-harm, and this is something that is always part of therapy and is dynamically and regularly assessed. Still, even as a trained therapist, I don't know (I mean we have a weekly 60 minute session and there are another 167 hours in that week) what happens in my clients' lives. So I can understand how hard it is for anyone who is not experienced in this topic to open a conversation and ask the other person how they feel and whether they feel suicidal.


Talking about mental health can still be a taboo. And talking about suicide even more so. The language we use is extremely important - if you want the other person to open up, try to avoid starting questions with "Why". This can imply blame and make them feel even worse. Open questions, starting with "How..." "What..." tend to be the most helpful as it encourages the other person to tell you more instead of just answering "yes" or "no" to a closed question (questions without "How", or "What").


If you know someone who is struggling and you are not sure what to do - approaching the topic with openness can be a good start. This doesn't mean the person will respond and open up unfortunately - the demons of depression or negative thoughts can be extremely convincing. So what can you do?

You can help the person set up a virtual or actual "emergency toolbox" - when they feel well that is the best time to do this. Don't forget, depression can have many faces, one day someone might come across as perfectly happy and the next day they are gone. In therapy, I look out for sudden changes for the better - especially if the person was really low before. This can mean they have decided it's not worth going on and starting to 'say their goodbyes".

This is something that family and friends might be able to spot as well.

Emergency toolbox: there is an app called "Stay alive" - this is an NHS recommended app, and it features lots of useful tools.

Emergency telephone numbers on speed dial or have at easy access: this might mean 999, close friend, Samaritans (116 123) , other helplines (local crisis lines or specialised helplines).

It can also help to have a detailed plan written down: such as "what will I do if I notice suicidal thoughts creeping in?". Try to include all the details possible:

What happens if the person is alone at the time? Who can he/she call? What if that person is not available? What if the person feels low but doesn't want to reach out to anyone? What excuses might the person come up with to avoid making contact?

How can these excuses or obstacles overcome?

What are the good things in his/her life that life is worth living for?


But the bottom line is: inviting others to talk openly and listen kindly and with compassion. Resisting the temptation to blame the person for how they feel, trying to not solve the problem or offer solutions, just listen. And this is sometimes the hardest, as the person who is listening might experience a lot of emotions and distress.


On another note: PREVENTION. I hope we will live in a world when people will reach out to a friend or a professional at the start of things going wrong. It is so much easier to help at this point, and I know it's hard to make the first step.

Long-term solutions can include professional help (as we know once a person experienced depression, it's likely to re-occur in their lifetime) such as Cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling or mindfulness based treatments. All of these can help to deal with issues and especially mindfulness can help to build resilience.


But if you struggle or know someone who struggles, please reach out, it might save a life. The minimum that EVERYONE can do is #bekind, you don't know what demons others are battling.


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