This World Suicide Prevention Day Lancashire Mind Coordinator Paula shares her tips, following her lived in experience, on:
Experiencing suicidal thoughts,
Talking about your suicidal thoughts with others
How to support someone you think may be experiencing suicidal thoughts
Suicide. A word that we don’t often hear in everyday conversations...
... or even worse, only hear after it has happened.
Working at Lancashire Mind means that I am in the fortunate position to be able to talk about anything mental health and it’s guaranteed that others around me will listen and talk too, but outside this environment it can be very different. But it is silence that aids suicide and the more we can talk about it, the more we prepare, educate and support each other, the more we’ll put a stop to it.
Suicide is the most easily preventable death, so why does it keep happening?
There are endless reasons why someone might have suicidal thoughts (debt, loss, decline in mental health, divorce, bullying) but often the reason why they aren’t sharing the fact that they are thinking of suicide, are feelings of isolation and embarrassment. But why, when we are all capable of these feelings and we all deserve love and support to help us with these feelings?
It’s not unfamiliar to hear that suicide is the biggest killer amongst men or that we’ve seen a sharp rise over the last forty years to overall loss of life due to death by suicide.
What isn’t familiar is the fact that suicidal thoughts are actually quite common. And if we were able to talk more openly about this fact, we would no doubt be able to prevent more suicides from happening as it would be more acceptable as everyday conversation.
After all, we all face good days and bad, light days and the dark.
I myself have experience of suicidal thoughts and took steps to end my life when I was in my late twenties. Nearly ten years later and I probably still have suicidal thoughts around three times a year. Put simply, the difference between thinking and acting when it comes to suicide is just that. Thinking, and even wanting, is not the same as actioning.
But either way, we all need support when it comes to these times in our lives.
So why keep our suffering quiet?
I have been able to build up my own tools over the years to manage these darker times, whether it’s the people I can talk to, the resources I can access, the hobbies I need to focus on or the dogs I need to cuddle a little tighter.
And you can do this too.
So, this World Suicide Prevention Day I wanted to provide some top tips on how we can support each other when it comes to our darker days...
Tips for experiencing Suicidal Thinking
Mindset - Having a chance to think or act in ways to change your mood can often be a great place to start. For example, if you’ve not been out of the house for a few days, get some fresh air, find a safe place to sit and maybe focus on your breathing for a little while. Take yourself outside of your situation to find some space, calm and fresh air.
Take charge – often thoughts of suicide come from feeling a loss of control if something happens in life unexpectedly. Knowing that you can make decisions and help yourself is one of the most empowering ways that I’ve helped these thoughts lessen for myself and always enables me to review my current situation and mould my own destiny.
Share – Whether it’s a friend, family member, partner, colleague or a helpline, there is always someone that wants to talk to you and wants you to know that you matter. Give someone a chance to hear you and you may just find that things feel that little bit easier.
Temporary situations – It’s important to not make long term decisions on short term emotions. Your current circumstances, financial situation or even any mistakes you’ve made, does not define your worth. And nothing, not even the bad stuff, lasts forever.
Your passion – whether it’s your kids, your pet, a location or a hobby, take the time to focus on those good things you have or what you are passionate about. This can remind you of what is worth living for. My dogs always keep me going, even on my darkest days.
Put value on your pain – it might sound strange, but often we don’t think our problems are worth feeling so much pain for, maybe because others “have it worse”. This can lead to making yourself feel even worse! Try to understand (in your own way) that the way you are feeling matters and that you deserve to find a productive and compassionate way of making things better for yourself.
No time limit – do not rush through how you are feeling. I have found that this can often give me the feeling of ‘one step forwards and two steps back’. Whilst you might have outside influences such as jobs, children, spouses or studying all fighting for your time, it’s crucial that you give yourself the time and energy you need to not only improve your mood, but also perhaps change the situations or things that have led you to feel this way.
Help others – not always appropriate for every situation, but I have found that helping others can allow me some time to get ‘outside myself’ for a little while whist also having the chance to connect with others. I do this by writing a blog, phoning that friend who may not be having the best time either, sorting out things to take to charity shops or volunteering for the day.
If these ideas have sparked some thinking of your own ways to support yourself, write them down. Physically writing or typing a note about these things can really acknowledge the priority you should have for yourself and form an action plan for when you need it.
Tips for Talking about your Suicidal Thinking
So how do you talk to someone about feeling this way?
The person – first, decide on who you would feel comfortable talking to about this. Remember, you are in control of who you tell and also how much. Hopefully, once you do start to open up to someone, you will feel comfortable sharing as much as you’d like and maybe talk about how you could find solutions together.
The place – think about where you would feel best to talk to someone about this. It may be at your own home, at the GP’s office, in your car, a park bench. Would face-to-face make things easier? Or a phone call? Make sure you choose somewhere that you can remain safe and that someone knows where you are.
The words – communication is a tricky thing and it’s important to make sure that you talk in a way that feels right for you. However, you may feel more comfortable saying the words ‘suicidal thoughts’ than being asked if you have them. So maybe think about this beforehand so you know how you want the subject to be raised and also how you can make it clear enough for someone to know that you may need their support. Using the word ‘suicide’ can help.
The outcome – talking to someone to get support is an amazing achievement in itself! The fact that you want to share how you’re feeling with someone may mean you’d like to talk about other options and getting support. Thinking about ending your life, and even making plans to do so, is still not the same as doing it. And you can use this precious opportunity to perhaps find other ways to get you into a better situation. There is always hope and I can honestly say, there is always someone who wants to help.
The reality – humans are far from perfect and so whilst I hope that anyone hearing you is truly understanding your words, please be prepared that your listener may not understand or appreciate the severity of your feelings. This should not mean you should not find someone else to talk to or to clarify further to that person. Do not give up. They just may need to listen a bit more.
The result – make sure you also listen to what an outsider perspective is saying to you. You may not be in the mood to hear comforting words or nice things about yourself. But they matter. Try to let someone help if they want to. Maybe they might offer to make a phone call for you, accompany you to the GP or make a plan for the future.
If in doubt, always know you can call 999 for yourself. You do not need to be at the stage of harming yourself for you to ask for assistance. The ambulance service is trained to provide care for you mentally and emotionally when it comes to thoughts of suicide, not just physically. They want to help you.
Always remember – the organisations running helplines don’t want you to wait until your feelings worsen, so never worry that your problems aren’t ‘big enough’ or your feelings aren’t ‘painful enough’. They want you to feel well, so call them.
Tips if you think someone might be having Suicidal thoughts
Changes in someone’s behaviour can sometimes become noticeable by those close to them. Often your intuition or ‘your gut’ can tell you if something isn’t quite right. You should always ask someone if you are concerned they could be having suicidal thoughts and below are just some of the tips that can help you.
Tailor your approach – think of the person and what you think their preferences would be when it comes to sensitive conversations. Would they be more open talking whilst walking? Or in their own home? How can you find a safe and private space for you both to talk?
Don’t panic – you don’t have to rush into the topic, if anything this may catch the person off guard and make them instinctively put up a barrier. Instead, talk with them like you usually would and then perhaps ask them how they’ve been feeling lately. This can then lead onto voicing your concerns.
Understand confidentiality – confidential doesn’t mean keeping a secret. If you are told something which needs to be kept confidential, you can say yes, but that if you are worried for their safety (or someone else’s), then say you’d want to get them help.
Prepare your tools - What comes next? Prepare beforehand what you can do if they say yes to your question. What support can you give them? Do you know the crisis helplines you can call with them? Who is their GP? Do you know their address should you ever need to call 999?
Use the word – there are many terms for someone taking their own life, but the most clear and effective way is to use the ‘s’ word. “Are you thinking about suicide?” Get used to saying this word beforehand if you need to. It can feel unnatural and if practicing it helps, then this might just save a life.
Risk of asking – you cannot make someone die by suicide by asking them if they are thinking about it. When we are not having feelings of hurting ourselves, our everyday instincts to survive are emotionally intact and you may even find some people react jovially to being asked, and that’s ok. It’s always so much more important to have asked, than to miss the opportunity to. Plus, they’ll know that you cared enough to ask and that you’ll be happy to talk about it!
How to react – Try your best to keep calm. If that person says yes, they have been thinking of suicide, it is important to understand if they have made any plans. If they say yes and you feel that the person is at real risk of harm, it is absolutely fine to call the emergency services, but try to ensure that the person is part of that decision making, this will help to ensure things stay calm and controlled.
Outcomes – depending on how they answer the question, your next step could differ greatly. It’s important to ensure that a support network is created around this person. Now that they’ve shared this news with you, who else might they let you tell? Who else would they like to tell? Would they like to see the GP? Would they like you to go with them?
Check in – Even after the conversation it’s important to follow up with that person to make sure they are ok and their recovery plans are in place.
Self-care – One of the most often overlooked element of supporting someone with their mental health is to look after yourself too. It can be energetically and emotionally very draining. Take care when travelling home, make sure you eat and sleep enough, but also take some time to reflect and wind down from it. Dealing with the subject of suicide can feel very heavy and allowing yourself time to heal is extremely important.
It’s important to remember that our thoughts aren’t our behaviours.
Often the underlying drivers of suicide can be feelings of wanting the pain to stop, that people would be better off if they weren’t around or that they see no hope for the future. Having the right people, words and resources are the key to getting through.
Your future deserves you and there are things that can help and will help, you just need to let them.
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Paula’s recommended links for further information and support
If feel you are at risk of hurting yourself, or are worried about someone else’s safety, dial 999
Your GP will have specially allocated appointment for crisis and emergency appointments, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts (but not at risk of harming yourself) let your doctor know so that you can get access to this.
If unsuccessful with accessing your GP, you can also call 111.
Samaritans 116 123 (free from any phone) or even email them at [email protected]
If you want some more tips and links to great resources, access the Mind.org Crisis Tools page here: https://www.mind.org.uk/need-urgent-help/