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What Other People Need To Understand About Suicide Prevention

10/09/2016 09:54
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Let's start with the absolute: you are not responsible for someone's life.

If someone you loved killed themselves, it wasn't because you broke up with them, you didn't call them back, you weren't on the bridge, you weren't at the door.

Sometimes you can catch a person's life by your fingertips and sometimes you cannot.

If you did, you may have saved them for another day. And each day is a gift because it's a chance for them to turn things around, it is a chance for recovery. But understand that it's their recovery, something they have to be involved with every day of their lives.

If you didn't, remember the story is bigger than you. It is bigger than your friendships, your love, your connection and your bond. It isn't them leaving you, it isn't you letting them down.

If we are to get anywhere with suicide prevention and mental health, we need to move past the idea that we can 'fix' or 'save' people from themselves. Prevention, to me, is about helping people to see how valued they are, how life is worth it and this will pass, providing a nurturing environment for those at risk, having enough services who can tackle the problem and most importantly, making sure that we - friends and family - learn more about it so we can better support.

My husband Rob died by suicide last May, and not a day goes past when I don't regret my lack of knowledge, whether it's knowing what to say to someone who says they are feeling suicidal, or just basic understanding about what it's like to have a mental illness like depression.

What I've learned was acquired the hard way. The irony of losing someone to suicide is that it also robs you of your own want and need to stay in this world. Finally you understand that desperate place they were at, the wish for peace and an end to feeling as awful as you do every minute of every day.

Of course the difference between my husband and I is that I'm not suicidal and I don't have a mental illness.

I also figured out something really important to prevention. Although I really, really didn't want to, in my darkest moments when I felt indifferent to living, I knew I had to reach out and tell someone how I was feeling, whether that was my sister or my best mate.

They didn't have the answers, but being able to articulate how I felt just somehow lightened the load.

And also, I discovered, it wasn't about having answers. I didn't need them to 'fix' me, I just wanted them to listen. When one person said: "What do you think you can do about it?", it made me so upset and angry because the insinuation was that it was in my power to do so (but I had somehow been remiss in not doing it), and they just weren't listening to how desperate I was feeling.

Part of my journey around making sense of Rob's death, was to write a book about it.

Through my work around it, I chatted to Natalie Howarth, the director of Maytree - a sanctuary for the suicidal in north London. She gave me some very good advice which was when someone tells you they are struggling or are suicidal, it's a very human response to want to be practical and solve the problem.

But that doesn't really help a suicidal person.

Maytree has a really high suicide prevention success rate, and I feel like some of the principles they employ could be used by loved ones.

Natalie says that by the time most people get to her door, their sense of self-worth is almost non-existent. So being able to help someone get that back, is one of the most valuable things that you can do.

The other is just listening to them. It may be hard and shit-scary when someone you love a lot says: "I want to kill myself", but as bad as it is for you, it's nowhere near what it's like for them.

You may want to swoop in and rescue, but in some instances, they may just need a friendly ear.

So that way, the next time they feel bad, they know they can call or talk to you, and not have to worry about judgement.

The final thing is that there is only so much you can do. And you won't always get it right. I certainly wasn't a saint, and as is the way with loved ones who have mental illness, dealing with them is exhausting, frustrating and chaotic.

Communication also has to work both ways. It took a long time for me to reconcile this, but in the end, it didn't matter what I did or didn't do.

Ultimately Rob found it very difficult to ask for help, and articulating how he felt was almost impossible for him. Call it the muzzle of masculinity or whatever you like, but when he needed it most on 28 May, he couldn't bring himself to reach out and his voice went silent forever.

So if this year is meant to be about communication and human connection, maybe the way forward is for us to promise to listen without judgement. And for those who are struggling to try and trust us with how they feel.

Because if they are still here, then they still have a voice. And while we can never be responsible for another person's life - that always falls to them - the simplest thing, when it comes to suicide prevention is that when they use that voice, we open our hearts, minds and ears and listen.

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@getconnected.org.uk
  • HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41

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