We are a charity devoted to stopping teenagers and young people from taking their own lives

Let’s talk about suicide

Have you thought about signing up to one of our suicide alertness and intervention courses? Are you not sure what’s involved and are feeling daunted? Lynne Wilkins from I Enable You attended our ASIST training in January 2018. Here, Lynne talks about why she signed up and the invaluable skills she gained.

Not that long ago I was shocked when someone I knew committed suicide. She was the last possible person I could imagine doing this and it has had a profound effect on me. I didn’t count her as a friend, but I did know her well enough to have a brief conversation if we bumped into each other in the street. She was someone around my age, like me with teenage and young adult kids. She always seemed happy to me so I still find it hard to believe it happened and I wish there was something I could have done to help. Unfortunately, I just didn’t know her well enough to realise what was going on. Perhaps nobody did.

Since then, I have wanted to know more about suicide prevention on top of what I’ve learned as a therapist. This weekend I got the chance to do this with training in applying suicide intervention skills.

I really had no idea when I joined this course that this particular training organisation could help so many people, not just professional caregivers. I think virtually anyone interested can learn better ways to pick up on and handle cues that people give us that they are at risk of harming themselves. Sometimes these signs are obvious and sometimes not. Some people may not even have admitted to themselves that suicide is being considered. Whether it’s obvious or not, there are ways we can engage in conversation that can help prevent a suicide.

There’s proof that a focus on intervention like this helps and thankfully suicide rates have been coming down. According to the Office for National Statistics, ‘The fall in suicide rates from 2015 to 2016 is the largest decrease in 20 years. It fell for both males and females in the UK, although men still account for three-quarters of all suicides. It’s interesting to note that between 1981 and 2016, the male rate of suicide among the 75 and over age group has more than halved.’ The figures are still too high though and any suicide is a tragedy affecting not just those in the person’s immediate circle.

One of my main takeaways from this weekend is how we can stop missing opportunities to help someone by asking caring questions and really listening to understand, using what we learn to simply ask that person if they are considering suicide if we need to. Once the connection with suicide is opened up, the training I did guides you through a flexible process leading to an agreed safety plan. The signs are often there to open up a conversation about suicide but sometimes we can easily miss them or be unsure whether to bring it up. People may say things like, ‘I just can’t take it any more’ or maybe there will be tell-tale actions, withdrawing or being more reckless than usual perhaps. These are all invitations for us to offer our support and, more than anything, we can just let them know we are there for them.

We may shy away from asking about suicide, for most of us it’s a scary and uncomfortable thing to be doing. Based on my experience with my acquaintance who killed herself and this course, I’d rather ask now if there’s an opportunity to help rather than miss it. People who are overwhelmed by the pain in their life can be very relieved to unburden themselves and get some help to discuss how they can choose life instead of what can seem an easier way out.

The other thing that stood out for me on this course were comments from a few delegates about colleagues who will not bring up their personal struggles with the HR team in their organisation because of a fear of it being on their record and affect their career negatively. Things are changing with mental health awareness, but these kinds of comments show there’s still a long way to go. The more organisations can do to dispel people’s fears about discussing their problems and encouraging mental health awareness training the better. If not for compassionate reasons, the business case for doing what can be done to improve employee mental wellbeing has been well made. Take a good look at the Government’s report “Thriving At Work”, which highlighted that poor mental health costs employers between £33 and £42 billion a year.

If you’d like to know more about training in what you can do to prevent a suicide, please have a look at this organisation who ran the course I went on: https://theolliefoundation.org/our-work/. They organise open courses and they will go into all sorts of organisations to do talks or run training. I can’t recommend it highly enough and I’m happy to have a conversation if you want to find out more.

This article first appeared on Lynne’s LinkedIn page on January 15th 2018.