When training as a counsellor, I remember being a little scared of the word suicide. I had personal experience of people who had attempted suicide, and hated thinking about it. I assumed that working as a counsellor I could help people work through their problems... and therefore avoid people having suicidal thoughts, and avoid other families being in the position of helplessness, shock and fear that I had previously lived through.
Counselling training is intense. When one enters the world of this learning, we soon realise that a lot of our beliefs, opinions and good intentions are unrealistic to say the least. My idealisation of avoiding and “fixing” suicidal thoughts was one of the first lessons I learned. I once thought that suicide was a very selfish act, and that people who took their own lives, or attempted to were unkind to those around them. My thoughts had come from my own experiences and I hadn’t ever really truly thought it through from a different perspective before.
I hadn’t properly taken time to consider the crippling pain one must be enduring to seriously contemplate ending their own life. I hadn’t deeply pondered about how lonely or frightened someone must feel to willingly take away their own life.. something our instincts protect from the day we are born. Once able to step out of my own shoes, and envision standing in those of someone so desperate, I soon learned to have nothing but empathy for someone in that position.
Since my views changed, and I could think more clearly I have been able to say the word suicide without flinching, or the familiar tug in my tummy and rising up into my chest. I have met and spoken to countless people who have felt suicidal, and felt immense sadness when others I have known did take their own lives.
The thing that stands out most to me now is that by avoiding the word “suicide”, we are merely isolating people who feel desperately low.
Talking openly about it has never killed anyone. Letting someone express suicidal thoughts can be a great release for the individual. Often, someone who says “I just don’t want to be here anymore”, means that they cannot bear the particular emotional headspace they are in at the time. At other times, they may literally mean they want to finish their life; but after hearing their voice speak those words, they may be horrified at what they have heard.
I do not believe anyone kills them self to hurt others. It is far from selfish, although it is natural for the loved ones of a deceased person (by suicide especially) to have feelings of anger towards them.
There is no shame in feeling suicidal. Many of us will experience suicidal thoughts at some point in our lives. How intrusive those thoughts might become, can depend on so many things. Severe or complex mental health issues can be a factor that effects the statistics of how many people actually die through suicide. Isolation and stigmatisation also play a huge role.
If we, as a society continue to believe that suicide is something we shouldn’t talk about, we are going to continue to make people who are feeling suicidal less likely to talk about their feelings or access help.
If on the other hand, we accept suicidal ideations... and learn to feel more comfortable about talking and listening to others surrounding this topic, we can make a real difference.
-In 2017 there were 5,821 recorded deaths by suicide in the UK. Males accounted for three quarters of that total.
-Let’s reduce this number.
-Let’s talk more.
-Let’s make it ok to talk about suicide.
-Let’s make it considered acceptable by all to ask for help if we need it.
Sometimes all someone needs is validation of how they are feeling to help ease the pain, even just a little. We are all capable of giving someone that.
Above all else... please try and avoid telling anyone to “snap out of it” or “stop being silly”. These comments are not only unhelpful but they can be severely damaging.
Instead, offer to listen. Ask if there is anything you can do to help alleviate their suffering. Encourage them to seek professional help or support. But most importantly let them know that you are there for them.
**If you or someone you know are struggling to cope, remember that anyone can call the Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK and Ireland), email email@example.com, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of the nearest branch. Samaritans are available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, or whatever life has done to them.**