THE BLOG

Three Words Could Save a Life

10/09/2015 15:42 BST | Updated 09/09/2016 10:12 BST

"My mum took her life this week. My family and I are not ashamed of this. As my family sat around to dinner last night, we talked about all the people who have since come up to us and told us of someone they know who has also killed themselves. Before this week, we were largely unaware of how many people we know who have been directly affected by suicide.

Now we know. This may be making you uncomfortable. It is something of an understatement to say that I, too, feel uncomfortable. If it is making you uncomfortable, man up and keep reading.."

When I first posted this on Facebook, I had no idea how much of an impact it would make. Now, two months later, I can honestly say it has changed my life.

"..My family and I have been trying to help my mum escape her depression for almost fifteen years, since my siblings and I were children. She has had excellent support from our local mental health trust, constant love and encouragement from her immediate and extended family and her many wonderful friends, but this wasn't enough. My only conclusion is that my mum didn't get the help she needed soon enough.

I wonder how many people read my opening paragraph and thought, 'I don't know anyone like that'. Let me be clear and direct: you do. You just don't know it yet. Research by the Mental Health Foundation suggests that more than 1 in 4 UK citizens will suffer a mental health problem this year. More than 6000 people killed themselves in 2013, and suicide rates have been climbing since 2007, according to Samaritans.

We are very proud of mum. She was gentle, kind and incredibly loving. She had a beautiful smile. When she was well, she was very funny and loved to laugh. She reared lambs, rode horses, and recently passed her grade 5 piano. She loved to sit by the sea. If you met her in one of those good periods, you would have no idea that she had seriously attempted suicide at least 4 times that I know about, and had come close to attempting it many more times.

So I say to you again, you know someone who is depressed. You know someone who can't control their anxiety. You just don't know it yet. You can skip on down your news feed, shrugging this off. Or you could share this post, and encourage those people to talk to you. Tell them they need to be brave enough to ask for help. Encourage them to visit MIND, or call the Samaritans, or talk to their GP.

Volunteer to go with them. Hold their hand or buy them a coffee or a beer. Let them talk. You don't need to know all the answers, but you do need to care. You might save a life.

If you've ever felt that your anxiety has affected your relationships or your work, now is the time to talk about it. If life feels hard, or if things don't feel worthwhile, now is the time to talk about it. If you find that you can't control your behaviour, now is the time to talk about it. Be honest and unashamed. Be strong enough to discuss your weaknesses before they take over."

In the two months since I posted that on Facebook, it has been shared more than 42,000 times and I have had thousands of messages from people telling me their stories. What shocked me most was how many of those messages were from people I knew. Friends I had known since school or university came and told me of suicides, suicide attempts, suicides in the family, stories of abuse and neglect, violence and trauma.

I always thought that people viewed me as someone they could talk to, someone sympathetic, someone who had been through a lot and who cared. But I've since realised that unless you actually go to people and say "Are you OK?", many will choose to suffer in silence.

It's World Suicide Prevention Day today, and I'd like to ask you to do something. Think of someone you know who is going through a difficult time. Go up to them and ask them how they are. If they want to talk to you, ask them open questions about what's going on and how it makes them feel. Allow them to say whatever they want. Don't judge. Most importantly, if they don't want to talk to you, that's because what they're going through might be too overwhelming, so just let them know that you care and that you will try to be there if they need you.

I'm not going to lie to you: if they choose to open up to you, it will make you feel uncomfortable. These people are carrying around heavy burdens. By choosing to truly listen to them for a while, you've shouldered that burden for a while. It isn't necessarily going to feel good. So listen as long as you can bear it, encourage them to talk to a professional, remind them about Samaritans, and then step away.

Know that you've helped, even if it doesn't feel like it. And when you're feeling strong enough, do it again.

To mark World Suicide Prevention Day (10 September 2015), Samaritans is encouraging anyone worried about a friend, colleague or family member who may be struggling to cope to ask, 'Are you OK?'

People looking for support to start a conversation with someone they're worried about can find tips and guidance on Samaritans' website or follow Samaritans on Twitter @Samaritans or Facebook.

Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year. It provides a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, and whatever life has done to them. Call 08457 90 90 90 in the UK (calls will cost 2p per minute plus your telephone company's access charge) 116 123 (ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of the nearest branch.