With all the talk of mental health and campaigns driving awareness, we might expect to see that numbers of deaths by suicide are reducing when actually, the opposite is happening. Scotland have reported a 15% increase in the number of deaths compared to the previous year, with 784 people “probable” suicides. The probable is because of the way such deaths are reported and the Coroner being required to have evidence of intent but that is 784 people who seemingly felt that to take their own life was the only option.
That’s 784 families left grieving, 784 sets of friends or colleagues wondering what they could have done, should have done, might have done – some telling themselves there was probably nothing they could do. But there is. Suicide is a complex subject but it is not inevitable and we need to stop associating it solely with mental illness. More than half of the people who died by suicide did not have a diagnosed or known mental illness – the two are not inextricably linked.
Not all about mental illness
Maybe that’s one of the issues that isn’t helping here. Maybe we only see those at risk as being those who have a mental illness and we are missing the fact that sometimes simply feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, that life is too tough and you are worthless or that you have no control over your circumstances and there is no point in trying to fight back – maybe we are failing to see that feeling that way can be the reason for suicidal thoughts and behaviours? It’s time we faced up to it – nobody is immune.
When you look at the figures for Scotland and their 15% increase over last year, two factors stood out for me particularly. One the increase in deaths in the under 25’s and the other the fact that 67% of people who died by suicide were employed at the time of their death. They had a job, a purpose, a place to contribute – they do not fit the image that some have of people who are homeless, penniless, destitute or in prison. 67% of people who were going out to work, registered as an employee somewhere but who took the decision to end their own life. Maybe there is something that employers could be doing, actually no, SHOULD be doing in that regard?
What employers can do
What if every organisation, every educational establishment had someone who was qualified in suicide intervention, suicide first aid, suicide prevention – call it what you will! Maybe someone who had been trained and developed the skills and confidence to have a critical conversation – someone who could help reduce that incredible 67%?
Organisations have an appointed (physical) First Aider – in case of accident or emergency to maintain life until professional services can take over. They have an appointed Fire Marshall – in case of fire to take responsibility for life until professional services can take over. So why should organisations not have a Suicide First Aider – in case of suicidal ideation or behaviour to maintain life until professional services can take over? Why not?
You don’t have to be a mental health expert
Helping someone who is having thoughts of suicide does NOT require an expertise in mental health. It does NOT require you to be a counsellor, therapist, problem solver, life long confidante. You don’t have to be there at 3 in the morning or patrol the bridge 24/7. It requires you to be able to spot the signs and symptoms and feel confident enough to conduct a crucial conversation. To just understand the issues and help the person get the help that helps them. And yes, a clumsy sentence but deliberately worded – help them get the help that helps them. Everyone is different and no two people will be having thoughts of suicide due to the exact same factors.
How would it be if you can help that person see there is another choice available? Or simply empower them to “press pause” until other options have been explored? How about if you were able to help them create a safety plan? Develop better coping strategies? Simply to feel as though someone gave enough of a damn to take the time to understand that crushing, intense feeling when your brain settles on suicide as an option?
This is something organisations can achieve. Not by sending folk willy-nilly on a 2 day MHFA programme, which many seem to be opting for, but an actual 3.5 or 6.5 hour training programme that helps to shift Attitude, Beliefs and Confidence and for the equivalent cost of 42 bottles of Tippex.
Nobody is immune
It is not about focusing the spotlight on those at risk. Research being done worldwide is showing that the historical risk assessments and investment in services for those who tick the boxes is not working. Why are the numbers still rising if indeed that is the solution? It’s about recognising that at any point in our lives any one of us could be vulnerable. Any one of us could feel overwhelmed at the shit life throws at us. The circumstances that are beyond our control, the pressure and stress of work, raising a family, handling finance, the breakdown of a relationship, a bereavement.
Awareness is not enough
Nobody is immune. Surely if organisations really DO care about their people, they could be doing something practical to make a difference for the 67% in Scotland at least? Awareness is great – ACTION makes a difference. Please do the right thing by your employees?
For further details about the City & Guilds standards in Suicide First Aid (the gold standard in suicide prevention training that has been externally accredited, evaluated and is monitored appropriately with suitably qualified and capable tutors) please drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org – it’s easier and cheaper than you think and has been proven to make a difference to a person in crisis.