Tag Archives: suicide

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 What if your mate, struggled to give you eye contact, is withdrawn and said things like “no one would miss me if I disappeared” or “I’m not sure I’m needed around here” – would you know what to say or do?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.

Multiple speech bubbles

Thinking about suicide? Are you stupid?

TW – Trigger Warning – suicide theme.

Apologies – this title is deliberately provocative. Please be reassured, this is a carefully considered blog looking at the language used when talking about suicide.

I was recently listening to a podcast where someone was talking about their experience of mental illness and they said this:

People say “did you want to commit suicide?”, well, yes, I did want to but I never, I was never at a point where I was stupid enough to think that if I go then my family and stuff is just gonna be like, “oh well, he was alright weren’t he, let’s crack on”. I always knew that, even when I was in my lowest places.”

(We’ll gloss over the fact that “commit” suicide is no longer used since that’s related to when it was a crime, there was a disclaimer at the beginning of the podcast apologising for this language!)

I know he’s not suggesting suicidal thoughts are stupid, he’s admitting he had them, but he appears to be showing a lack of understanding about what actually happens inside the mind of someone when they’re seriously contemplating suicide and it’s language like this that perpetuates the stigma surrounding suicide.

I know it was probably a flippant, off the cuff remark and I don’t want to target him but I feel when talking on a podcast, you’re in a position of influence and I want to use this example to talk about the wider subject, we all need to carefully consider the language we use.

When someone’s mental illness is so severe that suicide feels like the only option, they have got to a point where their mind is not able to think with their usual clarity and logic. From an outside perspective we can see plenty of reasons to stay alive but the chemicals in their brain have altered in such a way that their thoughts are not their own.

When in the depths of depression, your mind persuades you that your family and friends would be better off without you. You may think you’re a burden or you’ve become a person no one would want to live with. So, far from it being a stupid thought, it feels prudent to consider your impact on others and take yourself out of the picture.

The pain of depression has been described, by some, as one of the worst pains a human being can experience. Suicide is not just as easy way out but it may feel like the only option to escape the unending agony.

It’s incredibly sad to think about a person at such a low point but I’m being blunt about the reality because this is how powerful the mind is, it grinds down your self esteem and suicide feels like a legitimate (even logical) way out.

Speech bubbles with question marks in

Sometimes suicide is spoken about as selfish, as though the person is only thinking about the relief they will gain, that they are not considering the hole they will leave behind. Knowing incredibly beautiful, compassionate people who’ve died by suicide, selfish, is not a word I was use to describe them.

If you find yourself feeling anger or bitterness towards a loved one who’s died at their own hands, this is natural; it may feel logical to consider them selfish to have escaped the situation, leaving you to pick up the pieces. I’m not saying your feelings are wrong, if you’re feeling them, by nature of the fact they exist, they are acceptable. However, it may be helpful to consider whether these feelings are keeping you stuck and whether forgiveness maybe a step you need to consider in order to free yourself.

I have also heard people say they “don’t have the guts” to complete suicide. It is very unhelpful to use this language. Talking from experience, it is difficult to think about deliberately putting yourself through pain but, as previously explained, thinking clearly and logically are not possible at this point. It can feel as though it takes bravery but when I’ve got to the point of carrying out a violent act, it’s been a case of reluctantly giving up the fight for life and giving in to the voices telling me to end my life. This was not in a passive way, but in an active “I can finally take some action, do something about my situation, to make it better for everyone”.

It did not take bravery or guts, nor was it selfish, it was simply a symptom of my mental illness.

I know, we will all, on occasion, be clumsy with our language, make mistakes and say things that are less than sensitive, I know I will! But it’s important we’re open to considering how our language impacts others and how we can improve what we say to lessen stigma and improve communication.

If you, or someone you know, is feeling suicidal or expressing suicidal thoughts, please seek help from your GP or other care provider. In the UK, you can call the Samaritans on 116123.

Myth#6 If you survive a suicide attempt you didn’t really want to die

Trigger warningthis blog talks frankly about suicide, if you may find this content triggering, please do not read any further.
Even if you’re not triggered by this blog, please be aware you may find it distressing.
Please use your usual support network or contact a national agency such as The Samaritans on 116123 for support.
Unfortunately, I have made a number of attempts on my life. Each and every one, I fully intended to die. Anyone who attempts suicide will have different reasons, for me, I was seriously mentally unwell. Depression stripped me of feeling human and created the perfect environment for intrusive thoughts and beliefs about the world being better off without me, I believed I was going to feel hopeless and helpless and it was so unbearable, death by suicide was the only option. Anorexia caused my brain to be devoid of the nutrients that it needed to attempt to differentiate fact from fiction.
With the active debate about assisted suicide, there are people who do not meet the criteria for a mental illness but believe their life or situation is not worth living, they may live with a chronic illness or permanent disability, they believe death by suicide is a rational decision to make but are unable to carry it out themselves and ask seek assistance – I’m not here to debate the rights and wrong of this, suffice to say, people with a desire to end their life may or may not fulfill the criteria to be diagnosed with a mental illness.
It’s important to remember that suicidal intent isn’t black and white. Multiple factors combine to measure someone’s intent, include: timing, expectation of fatality, preparations, purpose of action, medical rescuability and premeditation. Beck’s Suicide Intent Scale has been found to be useful in predicting death by suicide.
Whether suicide is completed on not, no-one but the person themselves really knows what’s gone on, unless they have been able to accurately articulate their thoughts and feelings prior to the event.
Some methods are more likely to result in a completed suicide than others but when ill it is not always possible to this logically about what method would be “best” and it usually depends on availability of resources.
(I did tell you this was going to be a frank blog!)
Some stats show that those in the medical profession, (including doctors, nurses, dentists and vets) and those in agriculture are at high risk of completed suicide due to their knowledge relating to suicide methods as well as access to means (drugs and/or firearms). People without precise knowledge and/or access to means will have no less intent but their “choice” or method may be less likely to result in completed suicide.
There are also a number of reasons why males are more likely to die by suicide than females but this does not mean than a female who survives a suicide attempt did not intend to die.
I can only talk about my experience of surviving suicide attempts but having spoken to other people who have survived, I know our story share similarities.
Waking up, coming round or coming to the realisation that an attempt has been “unsuccessful” brings up a number of emotions: (please note, the language I’m using is intended to emphasise the feelings surrounding suicide, I do not intend to offend or belittle the feelings)

  • Disappointment – “I have not “achieved” what I wanted”. Feeling even more of a failure than I did before – this is a very dark place.
  • Fear – “What are people going to think?” And “I’m going to have to live with what I’ve done” whether it’s ongoing physical effects of the attempt (e.g. broken bones, liver damage) or now living with the mental scarring/pain of the attempt.
  • Guilt – about having not completed suicide (continuing to believe it’s the correct action to take)
  • Shame – for the “fuss” or worry caused to those around. My attempts were often linked to guilt about taking up NHS resources – when my attempt was “unsuccessful”, I was taking even more resources.
  • Relief – after one attempt in particular, it felt like I’d woken up. This was a particularly violent attempt, no one could understand how I’d survived – but I did and I saw this as quite a powerful sign that I should be alive and I had a renewed desire to get through my illness.

It can be difficult to admit feeling relieved, it may not be that the person didn’t want to complete suicide, it’s likely that a new perspective has been found after the event.
People who show warning signs and/or attempt suicide need to be taken seriously.
It is not ok for professionals to say “we can’t save them all” (they used to teach this at medical school to relieve the guilt if a patient completed suicide). I’m not saying professionals should feel guilty, I’m saying nonchalance is inappropriate when it comes to preventable death from any illness, mental illness included.
Nor is it ok for professionals to say “this is their normal behaviour” and ignore warning signs of suicide. (Seriously, I’ve had a psychiatrist deny me support because they thought I was “just attention seeking” – sadly, the lack of support led to causing irreversible damage to my body in an attempt to take my life.)
I was plagued by suicidal ideation (thoughts and plans about suicide) for years. Even when in active recovery from depression and anorexia, I continued to keep suicide on the back burner – it was always an options if things got too bad. This may sound strange to some people, it will not sound strange to anyone who has gone through the pain and torture of mental illness.
However, I could only break free from mental illness once I made a commitment and said to myself “suicide is not an option”. To those still on the brink, keeping suicide as an option, may feel “safe” but you will never experience how freeing it is to finally say “I’m choosing to live, there IS a way through and I AM going to find it!”
Breaking free and turning your back on suicide as an option does not diminish the severity of your pain – it is about choosing life over an otherwise grey existence.
It is also important to recognise that people whose behavior is risky but they do not intent to die are experiencing severe mental pain. Suicidal or para-suicidal behaviour should not lead to feelings of shame, mental illness leads to people behaving out of character.
With this blog, I have wanted to speak openly about death by suicide, just as we should speak openly about death by other means. People who have attempted suicide and survived should not be discriminated against by medical professionals – I hope by speaking out, I’m chipping away at the taboo and stigma surrounding the issue.