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Deaths By Suicide May Be Falling, But We Must Realise That Every Single One Can Be Prevented

08/09/2017 16:54 BST | Updated 08/09/2017 16:54 BST
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"15, 9, 21, 12..."

The first time I went to a suicide bereavement support group shortly after my husband Rob died, we went around the room one by one, saying the names of the people we had lost, and in some cases, how long ago they died. These numbers were, for some people, the years since their loved one passed away.

When it was my turn, the number in my mouth felt so small - barely four months. I had come to this group because I had felt so alone in my grief, so overwhelmed by all of the normality that still continued around me even though I had lost everything. But I saw how far-reaching and life-changing the impact a death like suicide has on a person, if even over a decade on, people were still coming to a group every month.

When I found out more about suicide, it seemed ironic, that on the one hand, suicide was such a quiet and hidden death, spoken about in whispers and rumour, yet on the other hand, the aftermath for the people left behind were anything but quiet. The guilt is roaring, its presence is constant and depending on how close you were to the person who died, it changes you as a person entirely.

Shortly after Rob died, I wrote a lot to make sense of his death because it was the only thing that made me feel remotely normal. I wrote blogs and eventually, I wrote a book called Chase The Rainbow. At the beginning, I referred to Rob's death as inevitable - he had attempted it before, and so bound was he by chronic depression and addiction to heroin that it seemed clear he was in an impossible and unbearable situation. But as I learn more and more about suicide, it is apparent that every suicide is wholly preventable.

I've possibly been avoiding this because I've been scared of the anger it will unleash in me: what could have been done to save Rob's life, and why wasn't it done? A death by suicide is not a death that makes sense, nor will it ever make sense to those left behind. And when the person you love most in the world dies, and you stand there at the most desperate of horizons, wishing, willing your life for theirs, you search with every fibre of your being for something that will give you closure, or a reason for why this happened.

But while a death by suicide may not make sense - it is almost impossible for us to understand the pain and suffering of a person may be so great that the only solution is to erase themselves altogether - the solution to suicide prevention, to me, makes absolute sense.

No one person is responsible for a life, but suicide will fool you into thinking you might have saved them. We think of the chance encounter, the phone call we didn't make. But what I've learned is that there is a much bigger picture to all of this.

I've written in my book about how the problem with masculinity still being so restrictive in its behaviours and conditioning, is a big part of why so many more men kill themselves than women. But there is a bigger picture here.

It's wonderful news that suicide rates among adults have fallen in the UK and are at a six-year low. But although prevention work by the government has been cited as a reason for success, I'd argue that not enough is being done. We could get there a lot faster and be way more effective about reducing suicides if the government actually prioritised this.

We are still behind where we need to be and I'm left wondering what more justification does our government need to take things seriously?

Let's do the maths. Leading cause of death for men under 45. Leading cause of postnatal deaths in women. Children dying by suicide this year hit a 14-year high.

Funding has been promised to deal with suicide prevention but no one can find out what plans have been put in place. Funding itself is woefully low, and most local authorities have had their budgets cut by 50%. Half of people who take their own lives have a history of self-harm, yet only 60% of people who have contact with the emergency services are given a psychosocial assessment. 30% of people who take their own lives have left psychiatric care - but didn't get a follow-up afterwards via a phone call. Sometimes a text message was sent.

I mean, sorry, but what is this? Is this remotely acceptable? We aren't talking about a broken toe or a misplaced letter - we are talking about endemic, systematic failures, lack of resource and funding for our basic emergency services, met with an incoherent system that is literally letting people fall through the cracks. Where the price of a life is a text message?

As someone who campaigns for suicide prevention and an ambassador for Support After Suicide Partnership (SASP), we have to get better at working together to make sure no one falls through the cracks. Because the problem with suicide is that its ripples are deeper and darker than most can even fathom. People bereaved by suicide are 65% more likely to take their own life, and I can honestly say, on behalf of myself and other people who have lost someone, charities, family and friends were literally the lifeline that prevented us from also going to that darkest of places. We have to be able to extend that lifeline to everyone else.

Poorna Bell is author of Chase The Rainbow, published by Simon & Schuster, £12.99

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

The Mix 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

Maytree is a sanctuary for the suicidal in north London in a non-medical setting. For help or to enquire about a stay, call 020 7263 7070