World Suicide Prevention Day

“You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend.” (James Taylor, 1971)

As we approach World Suicide Day on 10th September, The International Association for Suicide Prevention tells us that “Suicide is the result of a convergence of genetic, psychological, social and cultural and other risk factors, sometimes combined with experiences of trauma and loss. People who take their own lives represent a heterogeneous group, with unique, complex and multifaceted causal influences preceding their final act. Such heterogeneity presents challenges for suicide prevention experts. These challenges can be overcome by adopting a multilevel and cohesive approach to suicide prevention”.

The Samaritans, the UKs leading charity that provides a listening ear through their phoneline, actively preventing people committing suicide tells us that: “More than 800,000 people take their lives each year across the world. In the UK and ROI, more than 6,000 people die by suicide a year – an average of 18 a day. When someone decides to commit suicide they often have turned the distress or anger with the hopelessness of their world inwards. They stop being able to hold onto hope or wanting to ask for support as they feel there is no other answer.

On the anniversary of a close friend’s death by suicide, I feel it is important to talk about suicide as a wider subject in our own community. Most of all it is a very positive way of marking John’s loss. Over the last year I’ve thought about John a lot. Often when walking down a street in London I see the back of someone walking by and almost think to myself is that John. Maybe he is still here? Then I realise that he is not. John is still very much alive when he appears in my dreams. I see his warm smile, I remember his very warm and kind heart, or I am reminded of us enjoying the London scene and night life together. I still miss John a lot. He was a bright shining star and was very much present when I had to deal with my own life challenges.

When John committed suicide, I was left with a sense of guilt and anger for not seeing or reading the signs well. I had a sense of sadness and disbelief that he reached a place of taking such a decision to end his life. That he felt that there was no other answer, and this was the only way of ending the pain. The logical side of me remembers that John either had extremely high times when life felt good and he could take on the world, or dark times. I recall going shopping with another friend to get him some food and calling through his letter box encouraging him to get out of bed. Over the decade that we were friends, we were always there for eachother.

When life got quite dark for John, we lost touch. I knew life was not looking good, although I took a decision that I could not be witness to a time bomb that was slowly ticking. Like the child ‘cry wolf’ story; John threatened to commit suicide many times when feeling very low. It was the one time when John went very quiet that everyone thought he was OK. A decision that I will always regret, though in all honesty there was nothing I or anyone else could have done. This was his decision and I must respect that he felt that there was no other way, no matter how painful I and other friends or family of John have found it to accept his loss.

After John’s death, his friends and family rallied round. I wished that John had known how much love and support there truly was for him. Since John’s suicide, I have found it important to tell my family and close friends that I love and appreciate them. Also, in terms of ensuring and supporting friends who may be finding life difficult get the support they need, as nobody really knows how long they have in this world.

In my professional capacity since John’s suicide I’m far more vigilant in looking out for the signs of a client being in a dark low place. I am very used to working with suicidal thoughts or self-harm in my work. This did not make it any easier to deal with John’s loss in my personal life. In some ways a year on still working in this arena provides me with a sense of healing in terms of being there for someone else in distress when I could not be there for John. Most of all I never thought or assumed that someone I loved and cared about would not know how to ask for my help if they needed to, so now I am not so complacent.

Reading and re-writing this article written originally in 2014, it is interesting my heart is warm as I know John’s memory lives on in all the minds of the close friends that he touched. For me it still feels like yesterday and when celebrating special events or have some important news to share that is the time that John will always be missed.

As a Counsellor it is important to work with the individual reporting suicidal feelings in a holistic way and communicating with the clients General Practitioner and their Supervisor is just one step to keeping the individual facing these issues safe. The important thing is that the client feels safe enough to tell us. The Counsellor will ask the person whether they have a plan in place or whether this is an ongoing feeling that won’t go away. As a Supervisor it is important that the Counsellor is supported both through supervision and through personal therapy, to ensure they protect themselves from vicarious trauma, and practice the ethical framework of self-care. But what can a family member or friend of the person do for their loved one.

So, what can you or I do when someone mentions they feel suicidal?

  • Pick up the phone and let them know you are there.
  • Get specialist professional support if you feel immediate risk (i.e. have a concrete plan) go to your local A&E.
  • One of the best things you can do if you think someone may be feeling suicidal is to encourage them to talk about their feelings and to listen carefully to what they have to say.
  • Do not judge and ask plenty of open questions, this will allow them to feel heard and understood, something they may not have felt for a long time.
  • Helping someone with suicidal thoughts will have a big impact on you. Find out what emotional support is available to you.
  • If someone does try to kill themselves, know this is not your fault.
  • Most of all make sure the person knows they are not alone with these thoughts and they get the specialist support they need.

Fortunately, there are many specialist mental health and community services where you can go for support.

Please find useful organisations below.

Originally written for hotsaltbeefandmustard.com. Some of the names in this article have been changed for confidentiality reasons

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