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World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day

Tash Bright No Comment

This post was written by Kate, Sue and Dave from the charity SToRMS.

SToRMS stands for Strategies To Reduce Male Suicide.

SToRMS is a small organisation based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire and set up in July 2015. It is a fund within the South Yorkshire Community Foundation, a registered charity. SToRMS was set up in memory of Dan McAllister who unexpectedly took his own life in May 2015 aged nineteen.


Recent ONS statistics showed that in 2016, 5,668 people died by suicide in Great Britain. This represents a fall from over 6,000 across the last 6 years, however there is still work to be done. Of these deaths, 24% were women and 76% were men.

As many of you will know, SToRMS was set up in July 2015, after we lost Dan McAllister to suicide. Over the two years since that day, we have heard from many other families and loved ones who have lost their son, daughter, or friend in the same way. Although each person has their own unique story, one thing is constant: every single death was preventable.

The societal shifts we need to see are not simple. It is not just a case of increased funding to ensure that access to mental health services is faster, or more effective. We also cannot just focus on suicide prevention training for medical professionals, university lecturers or other staff regularly dealing with “High Risk” groups. Moreover, anti-stigma campaigns will not make a difference without other changes. All of these things cannot happen in isolation. The problem is far bigger than that.

Today, we want to talk about something that our initiatives have not really covered thus far. This is the impact of a death by suicide on family and friends. This aspect of suicide prevention tends to go unacknowledged, but in fact the people immediately affected by suicide are at significant risk of taking their own lives themselves.

When someone you love dies it is devastating. When they die by suicide however, the emotions experienced by those left behind are intense, particularly as the way their loved one died is often traumatic, or sudden. Everyone deals with grief differently. After Dan died, as a family we all hurtled between anger, devastation, guilt and numbness. There were days when we couldn’t do anything but cry if we even tried to speak. So we stayed silent. Dan died away from us whilst at University. Some universities and emergency services provide support to families who have been bereaved by suicide. We cannot speak for others, but the support we received was provided by the incredible people at CRUSE Sheffield. Apart from that, we had each other.

The recent deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington sparked a social media frenzy, which ranged from messages of condolence, to diatribes about how someone could be so selfish. For the record, saying suicide is selfish completely misunderstands the mind-set of someone who is suicidal. It implies that this individual felt that they had other options, other than to take their own life. This is simply not true.

Across the world, 800,000 people die by suicide every year. The pain that the ones left behind feel is enduring. It changes people, it breaks up families, and it leaves you questioning what the point is. Then there is the stigma. From a personal perspective, we decided early on that we would choose to be open and honest about how Dan died wherever possible. We decided that the last twenty minutes of his life did not define him. But people are scared to talk about suicide. This is not malicious, but borne out of uncertainty. Talking about it is painful, yes. But not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. When someone you love dies by suicide, that knowledge is always there, in the back of your mind. In the early days, it is all consuming. It is the first thing you think about when you wake up. You think about it when you are paying for your shopping at the supermarket. Then, when you are trying to sleep, images flood into your mind. Sometimes it can be terrifying. As time goes on, that reality becomes more normal. For us, it hasn’t become less painful, however it does become less of a shock. But we never forget. When you lose a loved one to suicide, one of the most constant emotions you feel is confusion. Part of it is pure disbelief that someone you love could make that “decision”. We have slowly come to realise that what got us here was a chain of events, emotions, or actions that we will probably never truly understand. But that doesn’t stop you asking, “why?”

We set up SToRMS because we wanted to make changes within our community and in wider society which might have changed the outcome for Dan, and therefore might do the same for others. Dan had no diagnosed mental health problems, and although we knew he was stressed and occasionally unhappy, when we tried to encourage him to seek help beyond our family, he reassured us that he was okay. We believe therefore that if Dan had felt able to open up and tell us or anyone about how he was feeling, the outcome might have been different. Moreover, if we had asked the right questions and facilitated conversations, the same could be true. Often, we think that if someone is suicidal it will be obvious. Stereotypical representations of depression or anxiety encourage us to believe that if someone we knew was considering taking their own life, we would be able to recognise it, and intervene. For us, it wasn’t like that. With Dan, every statement of frustration, or self-deprecation was accompanied with a smile, or if we asked him what he meant, he would brush us off. But, with the benefit of hindsight, we are beginning to recognise the subtle signs that we missed.

This is why we place such emphasis on the community element of suicide prevention. We believe that everyone has a role to play. There is fantastic work currently being done by charities such as Papyrus, CALM, and If U Care Share. We are currently working on our contribution, which will centre on workshops which are for everyone. Inspired by the approach of MHFA training courses, our initiative, ‘Wise Talkers’, will aim to equip people with the skills to deal with difficult conversations, to be able to direct people towards further help and support if necessary, but perhaps most importantly, to practice self-care throughout this. We are excited to launch these initiatives in the coming year.

This year, the theme of World Suicide Prevention Day is:

Taking a minute can change a life.”

This core principle underwrites the work that we fund and provide across Sheffield. We believe that everyone has the capacity to offer support to someone experiencing suicidal thoughts. Here are some key things to remember:

  1. Ask the question directly: “Are you thinking about taking your own life?”. This will not make someone more likely to take their own life, in fact, it might reconnect them, and give them the opportunity to voice what they are feeling and experiencing.
  2. This is the most important thing you can do. Don’t try and jump in with answers, as this may cause them to shut down. Also, try to avoid saying that you understand. Often this comes from a good place, but the reality is that you can’t truly understand because you are not them. Instead, acknowledge and validate that what they are feeling or experiencing is difficult.
  3. Do not judge them. This is not just about avoiding saying something, but it’s also about your body language, and expression. Try and be as relaxed as possible, and don’t panic if they say something which concerns you. Respond calmly and clearly. You might also feel uncomfortable, but try not to let that show.
  4. Let them know that you are there. Making someone feel less alone is key to reducing the risk that they might take their own life. Also, don’t just say it, act on it. Text them to find out how they are, invite them to do things. Say that you are there to listen, but equally you can just be with them to watch a film, or get a takeaway. The small gestures really do make a massive difference.
  5. Look after yourself. Supporting someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts can be exhausting, and you must make sure that you have support yourself. If you feel that it is becoming overwhelming, try and encourage them to seek other help. But, don’t assume that someone else will do a better job than you. Chances are, if that person has been able to talk to you, you will be able to help them in some way. They may value your opinion and support. Have confidence in your ability. Saying something wrong is far better than saying nothing at all.

In recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day, we ask you to act according to these principles. There might be someone in your life that you haven’t spoken to for a while, but keep meaning to contact. You might know someone who is having a hard time. Start those conversations today. You really could save a life.

Also, light a candle to remember Dan, and all those beautiful, brilliant people who we have lost to suicide. We can make a difference together.

Thank you for reading,

Kate, Sue and Dave.

https://iasp.info/wspd2017/

http://stormsdmc.org


For anyone who has been affected by this post, and would like to talk about it more, please visit our new wellbeing service, Door43. If you are looking for help, we are here to listen.

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