World Suicide Prevention Day: Starting the conversation
By WISH – September 8, 2023
Suicide is a profoundly complex issue, defying simple explanations and stemming from a myriad of interconnected factors. At its core are deeply personal struggles, often marked by emotional pain, trauma, and overwhelming despair. Mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, can play a significant role, hidden beneath the surface and making it harder for individuals to seek help. Isolation, the feeling of being utterly alone and disconnected from support networks, further compounds the struggle. Societal pressures, including financial stress, can push people to their breaking points.
The stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide adds another layer of complexity. People are often scared to talk about their feelings or ask for help because they worry that others will judge them or think they should deal with it on their own. Access to lethal means, can transform a moment of despair into a tragedy. And in some instances, suicide can be a decision made in a fleeting moment of crisis, when pain feels unbearable.
But here’s the important part: We can actually help prevent suicide by understanding all these different reasons and being there for people who might be going through them. It’s like untangling a complicated web, and by offering support and understanding, we can make a big difference.
It’s vital that we all look out for one another and understand the warning signs, including:
- Isolation: When someone withdraws from social activities and loved ones, feeling numb or not interested in the parts of life they usually enjoy
- Sudden Changes in Behaviour: Drastic shifts in mood, behaviour, or appearance.
- Verbal Clues: Expressions of self-harm or suicidal thoughts, talking about feeling empty, alone, or “over it”, saying people in their life would be better off without them, saying goodbye to friends and family
- Giving Away Possessions: Unloading personal items or saying farewell.
- Substance Abuse: Increased use of drugs or alcohol.
- Extreme Mood Swings: Frequent and intense emotional fluctuations.
- Life events: Recent change or loss of significant relationship, stressful life events, self-harm in the last year, especially if suicide intent was expressed at the time
How to start a conversation about it
Suicide is a topic that often brings discomfort and fear. It’s natural to want to avoid discussing it, especially when you suspect someone you care about might be struggling with suicidal thoughts. However, initiating a conversation about suicide is a crucial step in providing support and potentially saving a life.
Before attempting to talk to someone about suicide, take the time to learn about the warning signs and risk factors. Understanding the subject will help you feel more confident and informed during the conversation.
Here’s a guide on how to approach this difficult but necessary conversation with empathy and sensitivity.
1. Choose the Right Time and Place
Find a private, quiet, and comfortable setting for your conversation. Ensure you have enough time to talk without interruptions or distractions. The person you’re talking to should feel safe and relaxed.
2. Express Concern and Empathy
Start the conversation by expressing your genuine concern for the person. Use “I” statements to convey your feelings, such as “I’ve noticed that you’ve been seeming really down lately, and I’m worried about you.” Show empathy and let them know you care.
3. Be a Good Listener
Listening is one of the most crucial aspects of this conversation. Allow the person to speak freely and without judgment. Give them your full attention, and don’t interrupt. Encourage them to share their feelings and thoughts.
4. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Use open-ended questions to encourage the person to talk more about their feelings. and prompt deeper discussions.
Questions to Ask:
- “How have you been feeling lately?”
- “Is there something specific that’s been bothering you?”
- “Have you been finding it difficult to cope with some things in your life?”
- “Can you tell me more about what’s been on your mind recently?”
- “Who have you been talking to about your feelings?”
- “What do think is making you feel and think like this?”
- “Do you feel like you’re alone in dealing with this?”
- “Have you ever thought about hurting yourself or ending your life?”
- “How’s your appetite?”
- “How have you been sleeping lately?”
- “When did you first start feeling this way?”
- “Can you describe what those thoughts or feelings are like?”
- “Have you ever talked to a mental health professional about this?”
- “Do you have a support system in place, like friends or family you can turn to?”
- “Have you made any plans or taken any steps towards self-harm or suicide?”
- “How often do you have these thoughts or feelings?”
- “Is there anything that temporarily helps you feel better?”
- “ Why do you think you feel like this now? “
- “Is there anything I can do to support you right now?”
5. Avoid Giving Advice
Approach these questions with empathy and without judgment. You want to create a safe and open space for the person to share their feelings and thoughts. Remember that the person’s feelings are real and valid to them, even if you don’t fully understand or agree.
Resist the urge to provide immediate solutions or advice. Your primary role is to listen and support, not to fix their problems. Let them guide the conversation at their own pace.
6.Talk about Suicide Intent
Gently and directly ask if they have thought about suicide. This can be a difficult question, but it’s essential. You might say, “I’m really concerned about you, and I need to ask, have you been thinking about suicide?”. Talking about this reduces the risk of it actually happening.
7. Stay Calm and Patient
Emotions may run high during this conversation, but it’s essential to remain calm and patient. If the person becomes upset or defensive, stay composed and empathetic. Avoid reacting with shock or anger.
8. Encourage Professional Help
While offering your support is crucial, you should also encourage them to seek professional help. Suggest speaking with a mental health therapist, counsellor, or a crisis helpline. At the bottom of this article there is a list of resources.
9. Don’t Promise Secrecy
It’s important not to promise absolute secrecy. Explain that, while you’ll respect their privacy, you may need to involve others to ensure their safety, especially if they’re at immediate risk.
10. Follow Up
After your initial conversation, follow up with the person and ask how they are doing. This ongoing connection can make a significant difference. Check in with yourself after having this conversation as this may affect you as well.
Starting a conversation with someone you suspect might be considering suicide is a challenging but vital step in helping them. By approaching the conversation with empathy, sensitivity, and a willingness to listen, you can provide the support and understanding they need during a difficult time.
Reach out to those around you and break the silence surrounding mental health.
World Suicide Prevention Day, 10 September
Every year, organisations and communities around the world come together to raise awareness of how we can create a world where fewer people die by suicide. ( Samaritans)
Join us, together, let’s work towards a world where everyone feels valued and supported.
Helplines and further support:
Phone: 116 123 (24/7 helpline)
Specifically for people under 35 who are having suicidal feelings 10am-10pm on weekdays and 2-10pm on weekends.
Phone: HOPELINEUK – 0800 068 41 41 (Monday to Friday: 9 am – 10 pm, weekends and bank holidays: 2 pm – 10 pm, Text: 07786 209 697, Email: email@example.com)
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
Website: https://www.thecalmzone.net/ ; Webchat available on their website
Phone: 0800 58 58 58 (5 pm – midnight, 365 days a year)
NHS crisis line
Most parts of the country have a 24 hour NHS crisis line.
You can put in your postcode here: https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/mental-health/find-an-urgent-mental-health-helpline
Information and support: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday: 9 am – 6 pm)
Text “SHOUT” to 85258 (24/7 crisis text support)
Please remember that these organisations are staffed by trained professionals and volunteers who are there to listen and provide support. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger or experiencing a crisis, please call 999 or go to the nearest emergency room.