Hands reaching out

108 million people affected, what can we do?

World Health Organisation logo

According to statistics published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds. They estimate that suicide accounts for 800,000 deaths each year, after each death, about 135 people experience intense grief or are profoundly impacted in some other way. That means, every year 108 million people are affected by suicide (that’s double the urban population of the UK).

World Mental Health Day (WMHD) this year is focusing on suicide prevention. Mental illness does not discriminate on race, class, gender or age – suicidal thoughts are a symptom of mental illness, just like chest pain is a symptom of heart disease. Suicidal thoughts, can lead to suicidal behaviour which can result in death by suicide.

If your mate doubled over in pain, clutching their chest, struggling to breath, and they appeared clammy, you’d call for an ambulance who would (aim to) arrive within 8 minutes. What if your mate, struggled to give you eye contact, is withdrawn and said things like “no one would miss me if I disappeared” or “I’m not sure I’m needed around here” – would you know what to say or do?

There’s also a large proportion of the suicidal population who do an incredible job of hiding their symptoms, through confusion, fear of stigma or shame. How do we help them?

Lady walking on her own down a railway track

When I was severely ill with anorexia and depression, the illness told me my family would be better off without me; the emotional pain I felt was so severe that I couldn’t see any option other than suicide. Despite being in psychiatric care, signs were missed on multiple occasions, maybe I was hiding them, maybe there was an element of negligence or under resourcing. Having lost a friend to suicide, I’m one of the 135 affected by her death. If I had died by suicide, my number would be added to the statistic.

The International Associate for Suicide Prevention says “No single organisation, intervention, discipline or person can solve the complex issue of suicide.” 38 countries report to have a suicide prevention strategy and various organisation are doing their bit to raise awareness or put mechanisms in place to try and prevent suicides. In particular, work is needed in countries where suicide remains a criminal offence, where people don’t seek help through fear of stigma and discrimination and accurate statistics are impossible to gather.

But we can do our bit too, here are a few simple things to get started:

  • When someone says they’re fine, sometimes they feel angry, sad, ignored, all sorts of thingsWhen you ask your friends or colleagues how they are, mean it, don’t accept “fine” as the answer. If someone asks you how you are, cultivate a culture of honesty and give them a sincere, genuine answer. If necessary, be prepared to give someone 5-10 minutes of your time. Even if you’re in a rush, if someone needs to off load, this short time could make all the difference to them. If you’re not sure what to say, have a look at the Time to Change campaign for tips.
  • Send someone a text or email, just letting them know you’re thinking about them – mental ill health can be isolating, letting someone know that you care can mean they feel less alone.
  • If you realise someone is struggling, offer support, advise them to see their GP, as you would if they found a suspicious lump or had an unusual pain. Some people find it difficult to talk about mental health symptoms so offer to go with them to their GP if that would help. This guide from Mind offers suggestions about what to say.
  • Look into Mental Health First Aid – could this be something you could introduce to your workplace? Or could you do it as an individual, so you know what to do in a crisis?
  • Not just on WMHD but anytime, share posts on social media about suicide prevention (and mental health in general) to raise awareness. If the mental health world just talks to itself we’ll never get anywhere, everyone needs to do their bit to reach a wider audience. Decreasing stigma and discrimination will make for a healthier society.
Pulling someone out of a hole

If it’s taken you 2-3 minutes to read this article, another 3-4 people have died by suicide – these could have been prevented.

If each person who read this did just 1 of the suggestions above, we could make a difference to hundreds of people’s lives.

Spicy squash and lentil soup

This has to be my favourite yet. It’s packed full of flavour and is great all round on nutritional value!

  • 750g butternut squash, diced
  • 750g pumpkin, diced
  • 500g plum tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 carrot, cut into large chunks
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled (leave whole)
  • 2 tsps smoked paprika
  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • 1.5 litres stock
  • 200g lentils
  • 200g Greek yoghurt
  1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C
  2. Place butternut squash, pumpkin, tomatoes, carrot and garlic on large baking sheets. Mix with olive oil and paprika.
  3. Roast vegetables for 1.5 hours, mixing half way through, until veg is soft and slightly caramelised.
  4. Using a hand blender, whizz roasted veg with as much stock as needed to bring to a smooth consistency.
  5. Place blended vegetables with the remaining stock and lentils in a large saucepan and bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  6. Blend again, adding more stock/water, if totally smooth soup is required.
  7. Add yoghurt and stir.

Makes 2 litres (serves 5-6)

Plenty of pumpkins around in the autumn but try making this soup with any combination of squash (e.g. ambercup or acorn) and let me know how you get on!

Roasted root vegetable soup

Roasting vegetables really brings out their depth of flavour. This is a lovely earthy soup full of nutritious autumn root vegetables.

Ingredients
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 250g swede, diced
  • 250g sweet potato, diced
  • 1 large turnip, diced
  • 1 parsnip, diced
  • 1 large (red) onion, diced
  • 4 tbsps sunflower oil
  • 1 litre stock
  • 1 tbsp dried rosemary or 1.5 tbsps fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme or 1.5 tbsps fresh thyme, chopped
  • 4 tbsps single cream (optional)
Method
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220°C.
  2. Put carrots, swede, sweet potato, turnip and parsnip on a baking tray and toss with 3 tbsps of oil and put in the oven for 30 minutes, flip half way through to ensure even roasting.
  3. Heat remaining 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepan and fry onion for 4-5 minutes until soft.
  4. Add roasted veg to the onion. Stir in stock, rosemary and thyme and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Whizz soup with a hand blender until smooth. Add more water/stock to procure the desired consistency.
  6. Add single cream as desired.

If on a puréed diet, adding cream not only makes the soup more creamy(!) but adds some vital calories! Any combination of root veg would work, above is just what I used and it tasted fantastic!

Makes 1.2 litres (serves 3-4)