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World Mental Health Day: suicide prevention

Mark Rowland, the Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation takes you through the topic for World Mental Health Day 2019.

Our message of hope

Our message on suicide prevention this World Mental Health Day is one of hope. Hope is like oxygen for our mental health. It is the vital ingredient in supporting people to hold on. By reading this blog you are signaling your willingness to be an agent of hope… 

We can’t escape the reality that suicide is a devastating and gut-wrenching tragedy. It ends a life and shatters countless others. There is nothing romantic or peaceful about suicide. I know this because I am one of those left behind. I have seen the consequences with my own eyes.  

But as we bring suicide out from the shadows and seek to understand the causes, we need an urgent and sustained approach to prevent it.  

The good news is that every step we take towards preventing suicide is also a step towards a mentally healthier society. We will all benefit if we create a society where we can ask for help, experience less trauma and distress and where support is on hand when we need it.  

A rise in suicides in 2018

We know that the number of suicides has risen in 2018. We should be concerned – especially in the rise for young people and men. We don’t know the full reasons. One factor could be the change in law that reduces the burden of proof needed to register a death as a suicide (rather than accidental death). This may increase the numbers recorded but will give us a more accurate picture overall. 

Why does suicide happen?

The reasons behind suicide are complex. Often it is when many factors come together that people are at the greatest risk.   

The evidence does point to financial uncertainty, poverty, unemployment, traumatic life events and persistent inequality as all having a significant influence, along with wider factors including ill-health, loneliness and discrimination.   

The work by Professor Rory O’Conner is important because it shows that feelings of being defeated or trapped are a common precursor to suicide. That is why communicating hope is so vital.  

What can be done in society to prevent suicide?

The Foundation sits on government suicide prevention strategy groups in England and Scotland. We already know the key steps needed. What we need are more action and resources to put this into place.  

Investing more in mental health services will help some people, but as two thirds of those who take their own lives aren’t accessing services we need to reach far more people to be truly effective.  

Here are four important steps: 

  1. More community and therapeutic support for people we know are at higher risk (like care leavers, veterans or survivors of abuse). This includes bereaved families because we know that experiencing loss from suicide increases suicide risk. This support was completely absent in my experience of being bereaved by suicide.  
  2. Limiting access to means to suicide is vitally important.  Local authorities and government have a vital role through local suicide prevention plans to ensure that very practical steps are taken to keep citizens safe.  Adding nets below the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco is one example.  
  3. Teaching kids emotional literacy. We know that this has long lasting benefits to mental health and wellbeing. Our Make It Count campaign calls for mental health to be put at the heart of what kids learn at school and is a vital part in empowering kids to manage their emotions in a healthy way and build resilience in the face of distress. 
  4. Finally, one of our key tools is language. Countries like Australia have invested heavily over the last 25 years in highly effective approaches like Mind Frame. This holds the media accountable for reporting suicides in a responsible way. As awareness rises, it’s crucial that we do not glamourize suicide or portray it as a normal life event. 

What can World Mental Health Day achieve?

Everyone can make a difference to others who have reached the point of wanting to end their lives. On World Mental Health Day we have the opportunity to learn about and understand the reality of suicide and how you can offer hope to someone who may be in crisis. 

What can I do this World Mental Health Day?

Raise awareness with a green ribbon

You can join the movement and raise awareness of suicide prevention by wearing a green ribbon – the international symbol for mental health awareness. 

You can also share it as a digital sticker – available through most social media platforms – simply type in ‘green ribbon’.

Show colleagues, loved ones or simply those you walk past that you care about their mental health.  

It can also be worn in memory of a loved one. For me, “I am wearing my green pin in memory of my older brother and in support of all those who have lost a loved one to suicide.” 

Take action: share our WAIT acronym 

Prevention is something that we can all individually help with. A short conversation with another person can sometimes be enough to make the difference between life and death for them. 

The acronym ‘WAIT’ is one good way to remember how you can support another person who may be suicidal. It stands for:  

  • Watch out for signs of distress and uncharacteristic behaviour 

 e.g. social withdrawal, excessive quietness, irritability, uncharacteristic outburst, talking about death or suicide 

  • Ask “are you having suicidal thoughts?” 

Asking about suicide does not encourage it, nor does it lead a person to start thinking about it; in fact it may help prevent it, and can start a potentially life-saving conversation 

  • It will pass – give hope and assure your loved one that, with help, their suicidal feelings will pass with time 
  • Talk to others – encourage your loved one to seek help from a GP or health professional 

Share the graphic below, which summarises our suicide prevention advice: 

Getting help

If you’re considering seriously harming yourself: then reach out for support now. 

If you have seriously harmed yourself, or you don’t feel that you can keep yourself safe right now seek immediate help by calling 999, or going straight to A&E.   

  • Call your GP and ask for an emergency appointment  
  • Call NHS 111 (England) or NHS Direct (Wales) for out-of-hours to help   
  • Contact your mental health crisis team if you have one  

Phone a free helpline such as:  

  • Samaritans offer a 24-hours a day, 7 days a week support service. Call them FREE on 116 123. You can also email [email protected] 
  • Shout Crisis Text Line: If you’re experiencing a personal crisis, are unable to cope and need support Text Shout to 85258. 
  • CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) have a helpline (5pm – midnight) and webchat to support men  
  • Papyrus is a dedicated service for young people up to the age of 35 who are worried about how they are feeling or anyone concerned about a young person. You can call the HOPElineUK number on 0800 068 4141, you can text 07786 209697 or email [email protected] 

Read our page onGetting help for my mental health and how to access support? 

We all have a role in suicide prevention in our schools, workplaces, families and communities. Whatever you do, please take action.   

Your mental health matters

Everybody here at the Mental Health Foundation, on World Mental Health Day, sends their thoughts to anyone that has been affected by suicide and to anyone that is feeling suicidal right now. We want you to know that we care, and that you are not alone.

To anybody that passionately wants to create change – join our movement and let’s do this together.

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