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Suicide First Aid: juggling the challenges of adulthood

“…and then the lover,
Sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the canon’s mouth[1].”

As we continue down the soliloquy given by Jacques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, we come to the stage of life that we call adulthood. This stage is full of tricky challenges, from matters of the heart to making one’s way in the world, whether as a soldier as in the speech above, or taking on a different profession.

Working nine to five

There comes a time for us all when we must complete our studies, loosen the apron strings of our childhood home and branch out on our own. That doesn’t mean cutting contact with our parents and friends of our youth all together. In fact, these familiar contacts and emotional support networks can be invaluable to a young adult starting out. A large part of an adult’s life usually involves work and paying the bills. While we keep our fingers crossed for that elusive, multi-million windfall or lottery win, we must earn a living and pay our way in the meantime.

The world of work brings many challenges alongside its positives, from securing a paid position to meeting targets, negotiating workplace relationships, chasing promotions and, eventually, planning for retirement. In amongst all of that, other issues can crop up, such as workplace bullying, harassment, a driving need for perfection, lack of progression in a company and physical injuries or disabilities that impair one’s ability to do a job. Any of these areas can be hard to tackle on their own, but when two or more rear their ugly heads, things can become very difficult indeed.

Issues with addiction can also impact on working life, especially when accompanied by physical or mental impairments stemming drinking excessively or taking drugs or money worries from trying to satisfy a gambling addiction. Specialist help is available in these cases and can often be instrumental in helping people regain control over this part of their lives without turning to thoughts about self-harm or suicide.

Anyone can develop feelings about suicide and become worried or distressed about something that is happening at work. People with more physically or emotionally demanding roles can be at even more risk of taking their own life. In 2017, the UK Government released statistics that showed a strong link between suicide rates and occupations. Low skilled male labourers were deemed to be amongst the most ‘at risk’; groups, alongside nursing staff, primary teachers and farm workers.[2] These are occupations with higher levels of physical exertion and/or emotional demands placed on those doing the job, so the findings are not necessarily all that surprising.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic also brought about a raft of worrying issues for working adults, from concerns over physical health to feelings of isolation while working at home. Juggling work with managing child care, overseeing home schooling and keeping on top of the housework also became a problem for many. The Samaritans published research into how people coped during the pandemic and the effects that working from home and other related issues had on mental health[3].

As workplaces opened up again following the lifting of restrictions over the summer, this brought about different concerns for people who had grown used to working from home and now had to re-join their colleagues in person, take regular lateral flow tests to continue working or, in some cases, produce proof of vaccination.

More than 300 NHS workers attempted to take their own lives during the pandemic according to the Laura Hyde Foundation – a charity that supports emergency workers in the UK[4]. The effects on people’s mental health of being asked to care for an anxious population during a major health crisis for months on end must also not be underestimated.

Courtship, cohabiting and kids

As adulthood comes knocking, so do romantic and sexual relationships. Falling in love can produce feelings of euphoria and immense happiness. It can, however, also cause much distress and turmoil if things don’t go quite as expected. Unrequited love, arguments, abusive behaviour, sickness, work stress and life changes can all get in the way of an initial feeling of attraction developing into a healthy, long-term loving relationship. Falling in love physically affect how we think about many things – and how we react to unexpected obstacles, including invasive thoughts about suicide.

The science backs this up. When we experience the joy of falling in love, our serotonin levels rise. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that is found in the brain[5]. It transmits information and impulses between our neurons, affecting how we feel. Low serotonin levels can leave us feeling down, while higher amounts make us feel more loving and on top of the world. Dips in serotonin can also be directly linked to feelings about suicide, negative moods and an inability to cope with strong emotions.[6] So, if falling in love works out well, our mood remains upbeat and stable, but if things go south, so do our serotonin levels. It is worth looking into this if you find yourself, or a loved one becoming adversely affected by the emotions associated with love and romantic attachments before things develop into a more serious risk of self-harm suicide.

Another sobering statistic around relationships and sexuality is that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual counterparts[7]. The risk is especially high in younger non-heterosexual adults. Reasons for this are, as with all groups in society, varied and diverse. However, many of those affected report feeling overwhelmed by the stress of anti-gay stigma and discrimination. Both physically demonstrated harassment and evidence of internalised homophobia can contribute to such feelings. Connection to family and loved ones is especially important, as worries about being rejected for one’s sexuality are common. Reducing stress, finding supportive adults to be around and understanding how the law can protect equal rights are key areas that can help.

Another major aspect of human relationships for many people is parenting. Bringing children into the world can be an amazing, exhausting, exhilarating, bewildering time. Suddenly, you are responsible for a tiny human being. Not just their physical safety, but their emotional and moral upbringing too. When a parent dies by suicide, it can have a profound, lifelong impact on their children because of the strong influence they have on their growing offspring and the huge presence they have in their lives. Particularly as some studies show, if it is the mother who takes her own life[8].
The initial joy of giving birth, or taking on the role of a mother or father to a child is not always enough to counteract feelings of despair, anxiety or a perceived inability to cope. Parents can benefit hugely from networks such as baby and toddler groups, school year meet-ups and similar peer support. There is also a saying that a parent will only ever feel as happy as their unhappiest child. Supporting a child through their worries and anxieties can be difficult. Parents who struggle with this can end up needing support for themselves too. If this is not provided, it can have a serious effect on the wellbeing of the whole family.
Then, there is the risk of post-natal depression developing. Women who experience postpartum depression can lose touch with reality, suffering anxiety or panic attacks, extreme mood swings, low self-esteem, exhaustion and a loss of interest in life[9]. This is very different from the less invasive ‘baby blues’, which affect most women in the days following birth as their hormone levels reset themselves. Emergency intervention can be required for more severe post-natal depression. Support networks are key, as well as plenty of patience, empathy and opportunities to talk things through.

Suicide first aid support

Suicide First Aid is a course created, licensed, and owned by the National Centre for Suicide Prevention, Education and Training (NCSPET) devised to help people support adults at risk of suicide. It covers several aspects, from understanding suicide risks and trigger factors through to learning what to say, what not to say and when to seek emergency medical or specialist support[10].
For more information about the course and to sign up for your place, please get in touch today. Knowing how to respond to a family member, friend, partner or work colleague who has expressed thoughts about suicide, self-harm or depression can make a huge difference at an earlier stage.

“…and then the lover,
Sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the canon’s mouth[1].”

As we continue down the soliloquy given by Jacques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, we come to the stage of life that we call adulthood. This stage is full of tricky challenges, from matters of the heart to making one’s way in the world, whether as a soldier as in the speech above, or taking on a different profession.

Working nine to five

There comes a time for us all when we must complete our studies, loosen the apron strings of our childhood home and branch out on our own. That doesn’t mean cutting contact with our parents and friends of our youth all together. In fact, these familiar contacts and emotional support networks can be invaluable to a young adult starting out. A large part of an adult’s life usually involves work and paying the bills. While we keep our fingers crossed for that elusive, multi-million windfall or lottery win, we must earn a living and pay our way in the meantime.

The world of work brings many challenges alongside its positives, from securing a paid position to meeting targets, negotiating workplace relationships, chasing promotions and, eventually, planning for retirement. In amongst all of that, other issues can crop up, such as workplace bullying, harassment, a driving need for perfection, lack of progression in a company and physical injuries or disabilities that impair one’s ability to do a job. Any of these areas can be hard to tackle on their own, but when two or more rear their ugly heads, things can become very difficult indeed.

Issues with addiction can also impact on working life, especially when accompanied by physical or mental impairments stemming drinking excessively or taking drugs or money worries from trying to satisfy a gambling addiction. Specialist help is available in these cases and can often be instrumental in helping people regain control over this part of their lives without turning to thoughts about self-harm or suicide.

Anyone can develop feelings about suicide and become worried or distressed about something that is happening at work. People with more physically or emotionally demanding roles can be at even more risk of taking their own life. In 2017, the UK Government released statistics that showed a strong link between suicide rates and occupations. Low skilled male labourers were deemed to be amongst the most ‘at risk’; groups, alongside nursing staff, primary teachers and farm workers.[2] These are occupations with higher levels of physical exertion and/or emotional demands placed on those doing the job, so the findings are not necessarily all that surprising.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic also brought about a raft of worrying issues for working adults, from concerns over physical health to feelings of isolation while working at home. Juggling work with managing child care, overseeing home schooling and keeping on top of the housework also became a problem for many. The Samaritans published research into how people coped during the pandemic and the effects that working from home and other related issues had on mental health[3].

As workplaces opened up again following the lifting of restrictions over the summer, this brought about different concerns for people who had grown used to working from home and now had to re-join their colleagues in person, take regular lateral flow tests to continue working or, in some cases, produce proof of vaccination.

More than 300 NHS workers attempted to take their own lives during the pandemic according to the Laura Hyde Foundation – a charity that supports emergency workers in the UK[4]. The effects on people’s mental health of being asked to care for an anxious population during a major health crisis for months on end must also not be underestimated.

Courtship, cohabiting and kids

As adulthood comes knocking, so do romantic and sexual relationships. Falling in love can produce feelings of euphoria and immense happiness. It can, however, also cause much distress and turmoil if things don’t go quite as expected. Unrequited love, arguments, abusive behaviour, sickness, work stress and life changes can all get in the way of an initial feeling of attraction developing into a healthy, long-term loving relationship. Falling in love physically affect how we think about many things – and how we react to unexpected obstacles, including invasive thoughts about suicide.

The science backs this up. When we experience the joy of falling in love, our serotonin levels rise. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that is found in the brain[5]. It transmits information and impulses between our neurons, affecting how we feel. Low serotonin levels can leave us feeling down, while higher amounts make us feel more loving and on top of the world. Dips in serotonin can also be directly linked to feelings about suicide, negative moods and an inability to cope with strong emotions.[6] So, if falling in love works out well, our mood remains upbeat and stable, but if things go south, so do our serotonin levels. It is worth looking into this if you find yourself, or a loved one becoming adversely affected by the emotions associated with love and romantic attachments before things develop into a more serious risk of self-harm suicide.

Another sobering statistic around relationships and sexuality is that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual counterparts[7]. The risk is especially high in younger non-heterosexual adults. Reasons for this are, as with all groups in society, varied and diverse. However, many of those affected report feeling overwhelmed by the stress of anti-gay stigma and discrimination. Both physically demonstrated harassment and evidence of internalised homophobia can contribute to such feelings. Connection to family and loved ones is especially important, as worries about being rejected for one’s sexuality are common. Reducing stress, finding supportive adults to be around and understanding how the law can protect equal rights are key areas that can help.

Another major aspect of human relationships for many people is parenting. Bringing children into the world can be an amazing, exhausting, exhilarating, bewildering time. Suddenly, you are responsible for a tiny human being. Not just their physical safety, but their emotional and moral upbringing too. When a parent dies by suicide, it can have a profound, lifelong impact on their children because of the strong influence they have on their growing offspring and the huge presence they have in their lives. Particularly as some studies show, if it is the mother who takes her own life[8].
The initial joy of giving birth, or taking on the role of a mother or father to a child is not always enough to counteract feelings of despair, anxiety or a perceived inability to cope. Parents can benefit hugely from networks such as baby and toddler groups, school year meet-ups and similar peer support. There is also a saying that a parent will only ever feel as happy as their unhappiest child. Supporting a child through their worries and anxieties can be difficult. Parents who struggle with this can end up needing support for themselves too. If this is not provided, it can have a serious effect on the wellbeing of the whole family.
Then, there is the risk of post-natal depression developing. Women who experience postpartum depression can lose touch with reality, suffering anxiety or panic attacks, extreme mood swings, low self-esteem, exhaustion and a loss of interest in life[9]. This is very different from the less invasive ‘baby blues’, which affect most women in the days following birth as their hormone levels reset themselves. Emergency intervention can be required for more severe post-natal depression. Support networks are key, as well as plenty of patience, empathy and opportunities to talk things through.

Suicide first aid support

Suicide First Aid is a course created, licensed, and owned by the National Centre for Suicide Prevention, Education and Training (NCSPET) devised to help people support adults at risk of suicide. It covers several aspects, from understanding suicide risks and trigger factors through to learning what to say, what not to say and when to seek emergency medical or specialist support[10].
For more information about the course and to sign up for your place, please get in touch today. Knowing how to respond to a family member, friend, partner or work colleague who has expressed thoughts about suicide, self-harm or depression can make a huge difference at an earlier stage.


[1] Source: As You Like It, by William Shakespeare, Act 2, Sc. 7

[2] Source: Work and suicide | TUC. Accessed 27 October 2021

[3] Source: Life during the pandemic | Coronavirus and suicide | Samaritans. Accessed 27 October 2021

[4] Source: More than 300 NHS workers attempted suicide in Covid pandemic as charity warns of mental health crisis (inews.co.uk). Accessed 27 October 2021

[5] Source: When it is Darkest, by Rory O’Connor, 2021, p109

[6] Source: When it is Darkest, by Rory O’Connor, 2021, p109

[7] Source: Homosexuality and Suicide: LGBT Suicide – A Serious Issue | HealthyPlace. Accessed 27 October 2021

[8] Source: When a Parent Commits Suicide: A Psychiatrist’s Advice (thedailybeast.com). Accessed 27 October 2021

[9] Source: Postpartum Depression and Suicide – Suicide.org. Postpartum Depression and Suicide – Suicide.org. Postpartum Depression and Suicide – Suicide.org. Accessed 27 October 2021

[10] Source: https://www.ncspt.org.uk/. Accessed 22 September 2021

Post Author: Gayle Young

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