Who do you think is responsible for suicide prevention?
TRIGGER WARNING. After my last post, Increased suicide rates during a recession, a comment from a blogging friend got me thinking. What more can we do to raise awareness and prevent suicide? Moreover, who should be responsible for suicide prevention? Should it be our governments, leaders, the NHS and charities, or are doctors and nurses responsible?
I’d say yes they all are, but I’d also add that, in fact, we are all responsible.
We all have a moral, familial and social responsibility surely, to prevent suicide and to save lives? But to do this, I believe, we have to break down the stigma around mental illness and suicide, and actually talk about it.
Suicide is too important to ignore
While suicide is a difficult topic, it occurs too often, so it’s too important to ignore. Suicide knows no boundaries and cuts across all ages, class or gender. It’s the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.
Despite a common belief that only teens and adults die by suicide, younger children can also be at risk. “We know that children as young as 5
commit die by suicide and that it happens to the very old, as well,” says Psychology today, 2020. (I edited out the word commit, as that word still has connotations of committing a crime). Suicide is no longer a crime, yet it remains a tragedy.
The real tragedy of suicide is that it’s a permanent solution to what should be a temporary problem.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Burden of Disease study estimate that almost 800,000 people die from suicide every year. That’s one person every 40 seconds. Due to the stigma associated with suicide – and the fact that it is illegal in some countries – this figure is also likely to be an underestimate, with some suicides being classified as unintentional injuries.
There are many different reasons for suicide or attempted suicide, and these might include feelings of loss, low self-worth, isolation. It’s also known that depression and suicide often go together. But not everyone who’s depressed is suicidal and not everyone who’s suicidal is depressed.
And still we don’t talk about it, or if we do we use language that judges, stigmatises, discriminates, and condemns.
Elephant in the room
So, in order to prevent suicide, first we must address it — the proverbial elephant in the room. We need talk about it, often and more openly. We need to educate ourselves. Preventing suicide will not happen on it’s own.
There’s plenty of online information and resources available:
- Suicide Prevention Resource Guide gives you all the contact information, online suicide prevention chat, Crisis line texts, Trevor Project details for the U.S.
- The NHS has the details, contact numbers and crisis lines in the UK
- The government UK also has a wide range or resources available
- You can also see my Useful mental health contacts list.
I won’t patronise you by listing details from every country. I just wanted to let you have some idea of the resources that are available out there. We could be using these resources. Why not adapt them to suit your area or audience, to open up a conversation about suicide prevention.
Moreover, we ought to be looking out for our loved ones and others in our communities. What about the youngster always alone in the park, or the teenager sleeping on the streets. Then there’s the old lady next door who never seems to have any visitors? Or a colleague, maybe even our boss, who looks like they’re struggling to keep it together?
Suicide is not without pain
Every suicide is a tragedy, and many will ask themselves later if there’s anything they could have done to prevent it. They’ll feel the pain, grief, loss, and devastation at having lost someone to suicide. This in turn can lead to guilt, anger, depression, shame and possible thoughts of suicide.
And so the circle continues. Whole generations of families dying by suicide. Did you know that two of the most prevalent risk factors for suicide are family history of suicide, and family history of psychiatric illness. A well-known case is the novelist Ernest Hemingway’s family, in which five members over four generations died from completed suicides, The Independent.
Mind writes that “While every type of grief has the potential to cause intense and complex feelings, research shows that people bereaved by suicide can have a particularly complex set of feelings and can experience additional struggles and dilemmas in trying to resolve their grief.
Suicide can have a ripple effect, extending well beyond the person’s immediate family and friends. How we are affected will depend on our relationship to the person who has died, the strength of the attachment and the circumstances around the death.”
Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) are a great source of support for people who have been bereaved by suicide. See the SOBS website for details of their helpline, local support groups and many more practical resources.
Let’s talk about suicide
Why don’t we talk about suicide — in schools and universities, at work, in the pub?
I refuse to believe it’s because people don’t care or they turn their eyes and pretend not to see?
Is it because we live in a world full of shame, stigma and a lack of understanding or empathy? Perhaps we just don’t know how to talk about suicide?
We need to educate ourselves and teach others; informing them that suicide is preventable. We need to use our social media in a more positive way to support, encourage and show kindness to others. Perhaps we could start by paying a little more attention, and really see what’s going on around us. Have you noticed the old lady or the lone teenager? Did you walk on by and look the other way?
Start a conversation
There are many ways to initiate a discussion about suicide. Simply asking someone how they feel, or asking about their day is enough to start a conversation. Think about how much this might mean to someone, particularly the elderly? They often live alone, have no company for days on end, or don’t speak to anyone on the telephone.
My previous post was about the warning signs, risk factors and how to support someone who feels suicidal. So now we’ll look at how we can introduce the topic of suicide and suicide prevention. Talk to your pals, colleagues, in team meetings, children, at the pub:
- Ask “Did you know it’s World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) on 10th September?”
- Ask have they ever thought about the concept of suicide or its impact, what do they think of WSPD and why we have WSPD.
- Have a discussion about how we can prevent suicide by finding out how spot the risks, the signs and how to support someone who is struggling.
- Explain the myths and stigma around mental illness and suicide.
- See if the know the suicide rates of their own country, perhaps in comparison to another country.
- Show them some local, national or global statistics
- Suggest they tell their friends or use their social media to raise awareness of suicide prevention.
Just get the conversation started. Put Suicide Awareness posters up in your bedroom, at school, the staffroom, your office, the lift at work, anywhere (legally). Later, ask others if they’ve seen them — and there’s the start of a conversation.
Contrary to some beliefs, suicide isn’t selfish. It’s someone’s desperate and overwhelming struggle. Many don’t actually want to die, they want to be rid of the pain and suffering they’re experiencing. And this is where we can all help — by being more vigilant, supporting others in need, being aware and informing others.
Over to you
Do you think we all have a responsibility to prevent suicide? Would you put the World Suicide Prevention Day posters on the walls and leave WSPD resources around your place of work? Would you start up a conversation about suicide today, tomorrow; with your colleagues, friends, classmates or teachers/lecturers? And if not, why not? I’m really interested in your opinions and look forward to any comments, questions or constructive criticism.