Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and this year the theme is “Working Together to Prevent Suicide”.
How do we do that? What actions can people take to prevent someone from taking their life? How do we know if someone is suicidal? What can you do support someone who has been brave enough to admit suicidal thoughts?
Prevent. It may seem impossible but there are some things we as a society can do that would go a long way in lowering the incidences of completed suicide and suicidal ideation. For example – childhood sexual abuse is a strong predictor of suicide in adolescence. Imagine if ALL adults learned how to keep ALL children safe from sexual abuse? The fact is that we continue to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the fact that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will experience an unwanted sexual act before their 18th birthday. They often don’t tell anyone and carry this burden through their lives.
Knowledge. There is a lot of information available that can help you to learn the signs of suicide. Imagine if we took time to learn and to put these into practice. Here is a great visual from TWLOHA.
Support. I am going to share some ideas from a post I wrote for World Suicide Prevention Day in 2016. It’s based on the theme that year which was Connect, Communicate, Care.
Connect: When a person is suicidal they do not feel connection. Not with anyone and certainly not with themselves. They are listening to the critical voice inside their head that is telling them how hopeless life is and in a trance-like state with a seemingly impenetrable shield. It’s hard to break through and you may not be successful however the attempt at connection is in and of itself connecting. Remind them of activities or behaviours that have helped them before. What has brought a smile to their face or sparked some passion in the past? Talk with them about those things and if possible, help them to experience something again. Maybe you have noticed they are ‘lighter’ when watching the sunset or perhaps a drive or listening to certain music elicits that spark. Talk about the future with them as well. Ask what dreams they had as a child. Talk about making dreams come true – orient them to the future. This is a step towards finding purpose and nurturing hope.
Communicate: When I was suicidal, I withdrew so much from everyone and everything and yet there were moments when I was almost manic in my need to be heard and seen. I wanted – no NEEDED to be heard so desperately and yet when I spoke it felt like I was invisible. I felt as if no one saw me – and really, how could they? I was hiding so much…hiding shame, hiding the dark, hiding my angst, hiding a secret that was destroying every part of me. Every single day was a lie. Communication was difficult as I could not connect with myself or verbalize what I needed because I did not know nor did I feel worthy. Communicating with someone in this state is so important and yet how do you reach them? For me, the biggest breakthrough was when someone actually took the time to sit with me and not demand that I talk. They were there – and I mean they were there in every sense of the word. They touched me, they saw me, they were present with me, they did not tell me what to do but rather assured me that they would never, ever give up on me. They let me know that I was ‘heard’ even when I did not speak. Communication is so much more than the verbal. Good communication is being fully and completely present with another.
Care: We say we care about people but how many are prepared to really step up and put actions behind their words? People who are having suicidal thoughts are not easy to have around. They may behave in ways that frustrate even the most caring and loving of friends. It’s also very frightening. When you are caring for someone who is having suicidal thoughts, they are a part of your consciousness every moment of every day. There is no respite. You are literally fighting for their life. I have spent months caring for someone in a suicidal state. Checking in daily on my way home from work there were times when opening the door I would be greeted by silence. My heart would start racing – my PTSD would kick in and I was certain I was going to find them having completed the act of suicide. And yet and although it was a very difficult situation, I kept the promise to this person and to myself that no matter my fear and discomfort I would continue to care. When they lashed out at me, I stayed. When they broke promises, I stayed. Care for a person who is suicidal is a verb –it requires that you feel concern.
For those of you who are committing to be the one who reaches out – it is vitally important that you show yourself the same compassion. Ensure you connect with professionals and loved ones who can support you. Communicate your fears with your support network. And practice self- CARE. Be gentle with yourself and know that if you are not successful, it’s not your fault. Know that your love was felt and your words and actions mattered – oh yes, they mattered so much – and you showed up, you loved, you provided moments of peace.
Post script – I have lost 3 family members to suicide. One was my stepmother who died by suicide at the age of 49. Like me, she was sexually abused as a child. I had many heartfelt conversations with her in an effort to understand. She knew she was loved and told me as much more than once. I hold that with me when I feel helpless.
If someone is in crisis – dial 911
Call your local distress centre for help and support or Crisis Services Canada
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention has a lot of valuable information understanding, grieving, supporting, preventing and advocating.