This is National Suicide Prevention Week and World Suicide Prevention Day was last Wednesday. A good time to reflect on how lucky most of us are to have a sense of well being. Many years ago I used to be a Samaritan. One of my best and closest friends had died suddenly (not suicide) and I determined to do something to mark her leaving the planet. It was like a personal marker in my life that meant I would never forget her or our friendship.
I’d always thought Samaritans were amazing, never thought i`’d be good enough, but I signed up, was lucky enough to be selected and started my (very excellent) training. I was a Samaritan for quite a while until I realised that I was starting to feel more like a caller than a Samaritan. Time to move on.
Samaritans, and I’m sure other services too, give something very precious, a safe place for people to speak about suicide, to say the words that they can’t say to loved ones, the words that rattle round inside the head making so much noise that everything else is drowned out. People who phone or call in sometimes talk, sometimes cry and sometimes sit silently, often a mix of all of these. Some rant and scream. No one is judged, no one is pressurised to cheer up, no one’s told it’ll be okay. They can just be.
I heard a radio programme a few months ago about a clinic that ran on the same lines. A man who had been very suicidal spoke of the relief of being able to talk about his suicidal feelings and how that helped him move on, become happier and more positive about his life. The counsellors, doctors and all the rest walked alongside him and kept him company as he went on his journey. It worked.
In East Lothian, where I live, there were 13 suicides – 10 males, 3 females. 746 people in Scotland. 800,000 across the world killed themselves that year. All these numbers are probably underestimates. Despite this, suicide is usually invisible, you do get some clues like flowers on railway crossings or the tops of cliffs. So poignant, so desperate.
I imagine what it must be like to throw yourself in front of a train and I can’t. I imagine what it must be like when someone you love takes their own life. I know people who have experienced that who struggle to cope with what’s happened. What must they feel when folk ‘tut tut’ on the train because there’s been a delay. I think about the train drivers and lorry drivers and all the people who are affected by suicide.
What to do? Talk about it. Ask people. Read the signs. Asking someone if they feel suicidal can be an immense relief, it won’t put ideas into their heads, it doesn’t work like that. Talking about feeling suicidal is one of the best ways to prevent it, to take the pressure off, to come alongside another human being who’s in a very dark place. It’s hard, but love is about going into scary places with the one you care about.
Help is available. GPs are an obvious support, and if the receptionist/doctor knows that suicide is involved people should be seen as soon as possible that day. If the GP is out of hours, call NHS24 on 111, they will do exactly the same as the GP. Samaritans 08457 90 90 90 or Breathing Space 0800 83 85 87 are there to help. You don’t have to speak, you don’t have to be alone.
At the end of National Suicide Prevention Week, please pause and think about how you can help. We all can make a difference, caring for each other, supporting each other. Simple, human.
Take good care