A Listening Ear Makes All the Difference: World Suicide Prevention Day

Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death for people of all ages. It’s estimated that suicide is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to a shocking one suicide every 40 seconds.

The World Health Organisation recently conducted a survey across 44 countries to discover what impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on people’s mental health. It found that 25.5% of 18-24 year-olds have seriously considered suicide in the last 30 days alone. Which I’m sure you would agree is a staggering statistic.

Every life lost represents someone’s partner, child, parent, friend or colleague. Losing a loved one always has a significant impact on the people left behind.

The 10th September each year marks World Suicide Prevention Day. On this day, communities from across the world come together to raise awareness of suicidal thoughts and suicide prevention. There sadly remains a social stigma connected to openly discussing suicide and suicidal thoughts. World Suicide Prevention Day is an opportunity for us to spark the conversation and break down barriers to talking about this sensitive subject.

Reasons for suicide

While many factors can influence a person’s decision to take their own life, the most common one is severe depression. Depression can make people feel great emotional pain and loss of hope. This makes them unable to see another way to relieve the pain other than ending their own life. A person who has had a traumatic experience, such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, or war trauma, is at a greater risk for suicide, even many years after the trauma. Being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or multiple incidents of trauma raises this risk even further. Most people make the decision to attempt suicide shortly before doing so, rather than planning it out extensively. This can make it difficult to prevent, however there are some things that you can do to help prevent a person taking their own life.

Preventing suicide

Recognising the warning signs and taking them seriously if you think a colleague or loved one is considering suicide can be key to helping save their life. You can play a role in suicide prevention by pointing out the alternatives, showing that you care, and getting a doctor or mental health expert involved. Major warning signs for someone at risk of suicide can include:

  • Talking about killing or harming oneself
  • Talking or writing a lot about death or dying
  • Seeking out items that could be used in a suicide attempt, such as weapons and drugs.

These signals are even more concerning if the person has other mental health concerns, suffers from substance dependence, has previously attempted suicide, or has a family history of suicide. As a First Aid for Mental Health instructor, someone who’s trained in applied suicide intervention and with a background of working in the mental health sector, I have supported many people over the years who have attempted to take their own lives. Many have consistently said that they simply wanted someone to confide in and to talk about how they were feeling during their time of crisis.

Supporting someone with suicidal thoughts

If someone confides in you that they’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, the most important first step is to provide them with the opportunity to talk about their feelings. You should choose a safe space for them to open up, where you are unlikely to be disrupted. This will provide a confidential environment in which they may feel safe enough to talk to you about how they are feeling.

It may be an uncomfortable discussion, so remember to listen to them carefully, remaining calm and providing them with reassurance. It’s common to feel nervous about having these types of conversations. Almost 45% of people admit to there being barriers to supporting people that were having suicidal thoughts. Of these, 22% were concerned about not knowing the right words to say and 22% were concerned about not having enough knowledge about suicide. Ask the person open questions, remembering to be sensitive and not dismissing their concerns is key to providing effective support.

Failure to do so could add to the person’s feeling of isolation or abandonment, which in turn could add to the person’s frequency of suicidal thoughts. Just knowing that someone is there to listen could be all that person needs to stop them from attempting to take their own life.

Providing Mental Health First Aid

Training your workforce to provide First Aid for Mental Health could give your employees the confidence and skills needed to have initial conversations with someone struggling with their mental health, or having thoughts of taking their own life. It’s always important to remember that you are supporting someone through an extremely tough moment in their life. So if you believe the person is in serious danger and has tried or is likely to try taking their own life, stay with them and call the emergency services.

If they’re not actively planning to take their life, support them to seek professional help – this could be their GP or their local mental health service if they are already under their care. HIT Training has pulled together an easy-to-use factsheet containing links to useful resources if you feel that someone needs additional support. At HIT Training, we’re passionate about mental health and training people to support individuals that are experiencing mental distress within the workplace. We provide training for Mental Health First Aid, including: Level 1 Awareness of First Aid for Mental Health Level 2 First Aid for Mental Health Level 3 Supervising First Aid for Mental Health Remember, a listening ear makes all of the difference.

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