September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day and is observed each year to promote action to prevent suicides worldwide.
When I scheduled this blog in the Lumien diary to coincide with Suicide Prevention day, little did I know that we would see the publication of the recent report about suicide rates in the nuclear power and construction industries.
Suicide is a professional, but also very personal, issue for me. I was keen to write this blog at the start of this month, to raise awareness in the hopes of preventing suicides in others.
Many of us will have been touched by suicide and nobody can prepare you for the impact it has on every aspect of the life of those left behind. Every person who takes their own life leaves behind close and extended family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and other acquaintances.
Our neighbours are not just the people who live in our street or next door. They are also our travel buddies, our colleagues and fellow locals in our communities. Suicides can be prevented by neighbourly interest and compassion.
Don’t be the neighbour who didn’t want to interfere!
If someone doesn’t talk about suicide, they won’t really do it
Reality: Almost everyone who attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Even indirect references to death or suicide should be taken seriously. Listen and look out for comments like “You’ll be sorry when I’m gone,” “I can’t see any way out,” “I wish I was never born”, “I wish I wasn’t here any more”, “I wish I could just fall asleep and never wake up”. Whilst these thoughts are concerning, they do not necessarily mean that someone is going to take their life.
Suicide is a symptom of insanity
Reality: Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. Grief, extreme distress, despair and emotional pain are not mental illnesses. However, under-diagnosed conditions such as complicated grief and compassion fatigue are known to be extremely similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, which increases the risk of suicide.
Passing suicidal thoughts are not uncommon. When you feel overwhelmed by something these thoughts appear to relieve the emotional pain that we are experiencing and decrease the pressure we are feeling.
If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop them
Reality: Notes on bridges and talking someone down from imminent suicide can prevent suicide. Most suicidal people just want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all can be overcome.
People who die by suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help
Reality: More than half of suicide victims sought medical help in the six months prior to their deaths.
Mentioning, asking or talking about suicide may give someone the idea or encourage them to do it
Reality: Raising the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do because it allows the suffering person a chance to talk.
Information for employers and colleagues
There are many external causes of suicide. It’s not just a consequence of emotional distress.
- Long term conditions and disabilities
- Side effect of over 200 medications
- Chronic pain
- Neurodiversity and physical differences such as autism or facial differences, which can cause isolation
- Family history of child maltreatment
- Cultural and religious beliefs (e.g., belief that suicide is noble resolution of a personal dilemma)
- Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts
- Local epidemics of suicide
- Loss (relationship, social, work, or financial)
- Lack of family support or a feeling that they are a burden to loved ones
- History of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression
- Family history of suicide
- Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
- Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from other people
- Easy access to lethal methods
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- History of alcohol and substance abuse
Warning signs for colleagues to look out for
- Have you noticed a change in a colleague’s demeanour or behaviour?
- Is someone talking about suicide, dying, or self-harm, or saying things like “I wish I hadn’t been born,” “If I see you again…” and “I’d be better off dead?”
- Are you worried about a colleague’s internet searches or shopping habits? Are they trying to access weapons, pills, or other objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
- Have they become preoccupied with death, dying or violence? Writing poems or stories about death can also be an indicator?
- Is a colleague less optimistic, displaying no hope for the future or describing feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and being trapped (“There’s no way out”) or that things will never change or improve?
- Are they being very self-critical or describing feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and self-hatred? Saying that they feel like a burden or that everyone would be better off without them.
- Getting affairs in order such as making a will, giving away treasured possessions or making arrangements for family members.
- Saying goodbye – Unusual or unexpected visits or calls to family and friends. Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again. Withdrawing from friends and family. Increasing social isolation. Desire to be left alone.
- Self-destructive behaviour – Increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving, unsafe sex. Taking unnecessary risks as if they have a ‘death wish’.
- A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed can mean that the person has decided to attempt suicide.
Create a culture of respect and trust
Try to ensure that the workplace is not contributing to a person’s mental health problems by creating a respectful and supportive culture and tackling issues such as stress bullying and harassment.
Ensure that, as an employer, you have processes to help identify individuals and departments at risk, support those people and raise awareness of the complex issues surrounding suicide.
Review existing ‘people’ policies and consider policies that cover these areas. Consult with one of the numerous non-profit organisations that have been set up to provide evidence-based and practical advice to help you do this.
Know your people
Colleagues and first aiders should not be expected to be qualified counsellors.
But often they are the person that a worker will contact when they have a problem and representatives can support these people and ensure that they know where they can get help.