It is World Suicide prevention day today and throughout social media, I can see people posting about the need for society to be more open to having difficult conversations about suicide and mental ill health. As a trainer who delivers courses on mental health and suicide prevention, I am one of the first to be there saying we need to have these conversations. However, I do understand how scary they can be if you are not sure what to do with the information. I have been there, sitting in a room having a conversation and suddenly feeling that panic rise when someone shares, they are having thoughts of suicide. I’ve felt that mix of emotions whirling around my head and heart that I could barely hear the words this beautiful person shared with me over the heartbeat volume. I was consumed with my own fears and feelings, searching my brain for good advice and the right words to say, not wanting to say the wrong thing, and fumbling through a conversation that I knew would have deeply impacted someone. For months I worried, that I had not done enough, said the right things, and kept seeking that validation from people.
I share this to highlight that it is ok to feel uncomfortable, it is ok to make mistakes. I learned a valuable lesson from this experience, and I did something about it. Now years later here I am working towards supporting other people to be courageous and be available to have these conversations. To sit with someone in crisis and know how to have that conversation is empowering and creates the space for real, tangible, hope to emerge through a conversation.
This year’s theme for #wspd is creating hope through action and it summarises beautifully what we can do, and how we can be, to support those who are experiencing thoughts of suicide. Here are some tips to help you when you are faced with discomfort and fear when talking about suicide or mental ill health with a friend, family member, colleague, or anyone that may need an ear to hear their hearts cry.
- Be available
Most of the time when we share our thoughts and feelings in a space where we feel free to ramble and get it all out, we find that we can think more clearly and logically, we can process how we are feeling and often feel better after sharing our thoughts and feelings. So being available to have the conversation is a gift to someone thinking about suicide. It provides the opportunity to connect with another human being and express what is going on.
Feeling heard is like feeling loved
- Listen non-judgementally
If you think you need answers then this tip is for you. Silence is your superpower. People need people to really listen without judgment and opinion. Just to be open enough to accept what is real for the person you are talking to. There is a saying that says “feeling heard is like feeling loved”. You don’t need answers or plans or processes on how to fix things. You just need compassion, time, and willingness to listen. Listening without judgment and accepting the person in front of you. More often than not they just need permission to speak their hearts freely.
- Empower action
If someone is thinking about suicide and have opened up to you, you have done the difficult part. Stigma and fear stop people talking about suicide, this is the biggest hurdle in supporting someone. So, my last tip is if you are still concerned about their safety then signpost. Suicide prevention is a community partnership approach and there are professionals, charities, and resources there to help you help others. So, use them. Encourage the person to call a helpline such as the Samaritans (116 123) or text into SHOUT 85258 so they can get the support they need.
I have worked on those helplines, and I want to encourage you, from my experience. Once people have felt safe enough to share and connect with someone, their chances of dying by suicide are significantly reduced. Talking about suicide is a conversation where you make yourself available, listen without judgment and support someone in getting appropriate help. I know that may sound too simple. However, the skills we teach are really learning how to overcome our own biases, fears, emotions, and perceptions so that we can do those three simple steps with compassion.
If you want to find out more about training in mental health first aid or suicide first aid, or understanding suicide interventions, then do get in touch. These are great courses that will grow your understanding and equip you to have conversations that will literally save a person’s life.
I have come a long way since that first conversation with a friend. Despite my fears and emotions at the time and my very poor attempts at giving them advice they didn’t need, that conversation supported them in that moment, and today they are married, have a family, and beautiful life. I can’t take credit for the life they have created for themselves, but I do know that even though it was imperfect and messy, that one conversation made a difference.
That one conversation made a difference to me too.
#wspd – Creating Hope through Action