The World Health Organisation reports that 800,000 people die by suicide each year. This equates to one death by suicide every 40 seconds. Suicide causes more deaths worldwide than wars, conflict and natural disasters and its rates are highest in people over 70. It is also the second leading cause of death among those between the ages of 15-29.
The issue has attracted global recognition recently with the suicides of high profile celebrities such as Robin Williams and Mick Jagger’s girlfriend L’Wren Scott.
Sadly, suicide is a preventable tragedy. There is a lot that can be done to help. I should know, I was also someone that considered taking their own life.
For this years’s World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10th, I want to challenge the stigma that surrounds feeling suicidal and try to shed some light and understanding on this difficult topic.
I’d like to share my experiences and also let people know that if you are feeling suicidal right now, you can get through this. There are so many options and choices you can make and all of them are better than being dead.
One of the biggest hurdles I overcame was being able to talk about how I felt. Through doing this I discovered that feeling suicidal is very common. You’re not alone, even though all your impulses are telling you that you are. The second biggest milestone was finding not only that talking helped, but that people were willing to listen and try to understand. If you believe that no-one cares and wants to understand then you are wrong. The feelings and thoughts you have whilst in a suicidal state are inaccurate and untruthful. You believe the worst things about yourself and others because you are ill. Suicidal depression distorts your beliefs and perspective, it is not reality. When you feel that low, it’s almost impossible to think rationally. You can’t calculate your own worth and it’s difficult to find the positives in your life. This is why it’s a bad idea to try and get through it on your own, or act on the suicidal thoughts and feelings.
There are plenty of people you can talk to if you feel like this and I will provide a list of specialist resources and helplines at the end. Sometimes telling a stranger is easier and even though you don’t know them, they can still care. My job occasionally involves dealing with people who are suicidal and I’ve been told I can’t care because ‘I’m just doing my job’. I assure them that I do this job because I really do care, I could have been a florist or burlesque dancer otherwise. I challenge the belief that mental health professionals don’t care and would wager that if you spent 20 mins calling the helplines at the end of this blog, you would come across someone who cares quite quickly.
Another option is to speak to family and friends if you are lucky enough to have them and don’t not call because you feel you are a ‘burden’. It’s a hallmark of depressive thinking to feel that no-one wants to help and again is an example of seeing things through a distorted filter. People who know you would much rather be bothered by a phone call at 4am than have to attend your funeral because you have killed yourself. It’s also important to remember that you do not exist in a void, no matter how separate and lost from life you may feel. We are all inter-connected and your belief that people won’t miss you or care that you have gone is also wildly inaccurate.
The first thing people will think at your funeral is, ‘I wish I could have helped, I had no idea they felt so low’. Although I haven’t personally lost anyone to suicide, I know people that have and they’ve carried the pain of losing that person forever. If you kill yourself, you end up giving your pain to other people. This isn’t meant to make you feel even worse, but to remind you that you are more loved than your current feelings will let you believe.
I don’t think anyone actually wants to die by suicide, I believe it’s a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. Blinded by feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness and isolation, a suicidal person can’t see any other way of finding relief.
But The World Health Organisation states that “access to emotional support at the right time can prevent suicide”. A recent study reported in the Huffington Post also discovered that if someone wishes to die and his/her plan is intercepted, over 90% of once suicidal individuals go on to live.
So it’s worth reaching out for help and it’s also worth stepping in if you suspect someone may be about to make an attempt on their life. Research has shown that people who are suicidal do not seek help for a variety of reasons, one being the fear they will be admitted to hospital. Clearly, being admitted isn’t nice, but it’s better than being dead. It’s not always a given that you will be admitted anyway, I’ve never managed it myself despite being brutally honest with doctors and psychiatrists about how I really felt and what I was thinking of doing. Involving medical professionals will get you on the pathway to feeling better though and it will help you find ways through this difficult time.
The bottom line is that suicide is only one course of action you can take whilst feeling suicidal. There are many other options and all of them are better than killing yourself. The route out of feeling this way isn’t easy, but you don’t have to do it alone.
The first step is to tell someone how you feel. Ask for help. Keep telling people until you get the right help that works for you.
I’m now many years away from feeling like this and I’m glad that I didn’t do it, relieved that I sought help and reassured that if I ever felt like this again, I know I’d get through it. Trust me, you can get through it too.
If you know someone who is feeling very low and you are worried they may be suicidal, then these are some of the things that could not only help, but save their life.
1) Reach out to them. Suicidal people don’t want to be a burden, or admit they are struggling to this extent. Let them know you are there and they can talk to you. Particularly look out for people in the over 70’s age group, especially if they are isolated and suffering from health problems or bereaved.
2) Don’t be judgemental and always take the suicidal feelings seriously. Don’t dismiss the person or make them feel they are over-reacting. It’s a myth that people who talk about suicide are less likely to do it.
3) Don’t panic. Hard to do, but talking to someone calm and in control really helps.
4) Don’t offer quick solutions, suicidal feelings are complicated and will have built up over a long time.
5) Don’t underestimate the power of listening. I’ve felt that everything was more bearable simply from being heard.
6) Reassure the person that you care and want to help.
7) Don’t get angry or upset, although you may feel like it. You wouldn’t shout at someone who was having a heart attack. and this too is a medical emergency.
8) If the person is threatening immediate suicidal action or has already taken steps to end their life, call the emergency services and don’t try to deal with it yourself.
Sources of help and support:
1. The Accident and Emergency department at your local hospital is the best place to go for immediate mental health crisis intervention and support. Your GP can also offer help in terms of medication if appropriate or signposting to mental health services.
2. There are telephone helplines you can call, such as:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US) 1-800-273-8255
Samaritans (UK) 08457 90 90 90
PAPYRUS (UK) 0800 068 41 41 Supports teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal
CALM (UK) 0800 58 58 58 Supports young men, open 5pm until midnight
3. The Internet also has many resources such as:
IASP – http://www.iasp.info The International Association for Suicide Prevention provides and online database of crisis centres in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania and South America
Online Suicide Help – list of resources available online such as live chat, email, forum, social media etc http://unsuicide. wikispaces.com/online+suicide+help