Suicide rates in the UK have been falling, yet suicide is still the leading cause of death in young men. Having just had national suicide week, we are all considering the ways to be more aware of those with suicidal feelings. Can we learn and can we help to make a difference to the problem?

Suicide manAs with all areas of medicine, prevention is better than cure if we can encourage people to seek help reach crisis point we will make a big difference. Noticing that talking about depression, mental illness and shame is okay and helps us to cope in a positive way. By talking and listening to each other, we can find an outlet for our anxieties and stresses and learn different coping strategies.

Common misunderstandings

Suicide is often misunderstood. We often hear unhelpful things such as “they are being selfish” or “you can’t stop them – if they’re determined are going to do it anyway”. Yet this is to misunderstand those thinking about suicide. It is not a desire to die. There is a desire to be free of the pain of living , not wanting to deal with insurmountable problems. You can feel you cannot keep going, that it is too painful or that there is no other solution.

Why do people think of suicide?

When a person is suicidal there are often many pressures acting on them. There may be substance abuse, mental illness, poverty, physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Often they will have come believe that their friends and family would be better off without them. Often they believe  they have become a burden or embarrassment to everyone. They may have cut themselves off from their normal activities and have become isolated or distant. They will be able to take that step that allows them to hurt themselves. It is this last step that many of us fight so hard to understand.

Often the question is asked “if things were so bad, I didn’t you talk to me?” Yet while you might have a very good relationship with the person concerned, it can be very hard to be vulnerable with such dark feelings about ending your life.

So what can you do if you think someone is at risk?

  • Perhaps the first and most important step is to talk to the person. Talk to them, explain your concerns, and ask them if they are thinking about suicide. Ask them how they are feeling and tell them that it is okay to talk about suicide.
  • If asking is the important first step, then listening is the equally important second step. Just listening is one of the most useful things that you can do. Try not to panic, to judge or to offer advice simply listen to what they are thinking and feeling.
  • Work with the person to see what help they need. This might be contacting their GP or phoning NHS 24 or the Samaritans. It might be helpful accompany them if they are attending an appointment.
  • Finally remember that it can be hard to hear some of these thoughts and feelings so remember to look after you. Consider talking to another friend or family member.