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How to help someone who is suicidal

The tragic death of talented television and radio presenter, Caroline Flack, who ended her own life, has left us all massively shocked. Founder of the Suicide Crisis Centre Joy Hibbins writes exclusively for Healthista.com on how to help someone who is suicidal

World Mental Health Day has come and gone in October 2019, but with the new year it is still a huge topic of concern which still raises a lot of questions and what exactly are we doing about it.

The Prime Minister back in 2018 announced in her pledge that Jackie Doyle-Price, the current health minister, will become the Minister for Suicide Prevention, a first for the UK.

Theresa May also revealed in her endeavour to reduce the number of suicides in the UK that there would be new government funding, up to £1.8 million, to support the Samaritans helpline. This will allow it to remain free for the next four years and help to provide 24 hour support to anyone who may need it.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, in response to Jackie Doyle-Price’s newly appointed position, that ‘Every suicide is a preventable death and we are determined to do everything we can to tackle the tragedy of suicide.’

This recognition of the importance of suicide prevention responds to a growing concern over suicide in Britain; an issue that’s becoming increasingly topical.

The consequence of dangerous media reports attacking a person’s vulnerability is often left with suicidal thoughts which may or may not be seen in the public eye and clearly more needs to be done to prevent something like this from happening in the first place.

Unfortunately, much of the UK and the world of media were left in shock on Saturday 15th February following reports of the death of well-known television and radio presenter Caroline Flack, aged 40 years old.

Known famously for her bubbly and entertaining role of hosting ITV programme Love Island and The Xtra Factor, Flack too fell into the trap of negative thoughts which led to her taking her own life.

Weeks before this tragic news broke, Flack faced huge backlash and negativity with the world when events in her personal life caught the headlines and restricted her from trying to lead a normal life despite years of attention in the public eye. As with everyone and everything, it’s hard to just batter an eyelid and move on as if nothing is wrong.

Caroline-Flack.jpg

Talented and hard-working television and radio presenter Caroline Flack tragically ended her life on Saturday 15th February

As mentioned in the Guardian, after years of consistent hard work, she revealed she suffered from depression and anxiety attacks which stemmed from her winning popular celebrity programme Strictly Come Dancing. “I woke up and felt like somebody had covered my body in clingfilm”, she revealed.

But how far is too much, what are the limits we question. Flack certainly put on a brave face for us and kept up her professional appearance with courage and strength. Her own struggles and mental breakdown were hardly on display leading to the assumption that her life was ‘perfect’ in the public eye.

But now we realise only too late that her life, in fact, wasn’t all as she made it out to be and we will never really know what made Caroline take this devastating step.

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind”. A statement we all need to remember to live by.

Indeed, in September 2018 numerous public figures signed an open letter, urging editors to ‘make a pledge to portray suicide in ways which reflect our modern understanding of this phenomenon that is responsible annually for the deaths of 6,000 people in the UK, and 800,000 worldwide.’

The letter was written by Luciana Berger MP and Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon and has been signed by almost 150 writers, broadcasters and celebrities including Stephen Fry, Will Young and David Harewood.

The open letter describes the dangerous impact that media reports of suicide may have on the vulnerable and how young people in particular are influenced by what they see and hear in the media.

‘We still read that a person has ‘committed suicide’, suggesting suicide is either a sin or a crime, or both,’ the letter states.

‘We call on all sections of the media to replace the phrase ‘commit suicide’ with alternatives, such as ‘died by suicide’, and to embed this change into their style guides. We too promise to use this language when talking about the subject.’

The letter talks about how more needs to be done to educate the public, to tackle taboos and break down stereotypes. After all, it believes that ‘suicide is preventable; we can dramatically reduce the number of people who take their own lives’.

Suicide in Britain

In the U.K, suicide is on the rise according to official statistics, with 6,188 people ending their own lives in 2015, up from 6,122 in 2012. Mental health campaigners say that number could be much higher.

sad-lady-crowching-what-not-to-say-to-someone-who-is-suicidal-by-healthista.com

Image of a woman siiting curled up on the ground

In 2012, Joy Hibbins tried to take her own life – twice. The available services didn’t work for her and it was clear that something very different was needed, so she set up the Suicide Crisis Centre, to support people who were not accessing any services, and  who had disengaged from mental health services or who had found them unhelpful. Since then, the centre has achieved a zero suicide rate, with no client under their care dying.

Here, founder of the Suicide Crisis Centre Joy Hibbins writes exclusively for Healthista.com on what to say – and what not to say – to someone who is suicidal. 

‘It can be very difficult to know whether someone you care about is feeling suicidal. A person who is at risk can be extremely good at covering it up. However, if someone you love seems low in mood or depressed, it’s important to ask the right direct questions to find out the level and immediacy of the risk.

4 potentially life-saving questions to ask

1. ‘Are you feeling suicidal?’  Don’t be afraid to ask this, then move on to the questions below

2. ‘Have you thought about how you would do it?’ You need to know whether they have thought about a method already, because this shows they are further along in their plans. If they say yes, then ask:

3. ‘Do you have it already?’ or ask if they have thought about where they would go, if they specify a location for a suicide attempt. Then ask

4. ‘When are you planning to do it?’ This tells you how immediate the risk is. If it’s today, the quickest way to get help is to take the person immediately to an Accident and Emergency department at the local hospital. Or call 999 or 111 if you cannot take them there yourself.

Silhouette of stressed young women sitting under the tree.

Silhouette of stressed young women sitting under the tree.

Giving support: what’s helpful, what’s not

Let them know how much they matter to you and how much their survival matters to you and to everyone that cares about them. A person who is feeling suicidal may be depressed and this distorts their thinking. They may feel that they are a burden and that people would be better off without them. This is wholly inaccurate, of course.
Emphasise all the things that make them unique and special – all their good qualities, their personality traits – the things they contribute to the world. All these would be lost, if the person died. A person who is depressed will often feel they are entirely worthless. They may no longer be able to see anything positive in themselves and what they bring to the world. You can help them to see how much they matter.
Let them know you are there for them and that you want to help and support them. You may fear that you don’t know the right things to say. You may fear that you’ll say the wrong things. The most important message to give to the person is that you care, and that you want to help. If you make the occasional unintentional unfortunate remark, it will be heard in the much wider context of a person who is really trying to do their best for the person.
Encourage them to seek other help with your support. Offer to call their GP. Call a GP or a crisis service yourself, if they feel they can’t or if they don’t want to. If you feel overwhelmed and don’t know what to do, call the NHS number 111 and seek their advice. At our Suicide Crisis Centre we often receive calls from people who want advice on what to do.
It’s understandable that you might feel afraid in this situation. But please don’t let your fear make you avoid asking the right questions about suicide risk or deter you from trying to help.

distressed-woman-hand-reaching-to-help-what-to-say-to-someone-who-is-suicidal-by-healthista.com

4 things NOT to say

It’s unhelpful to minimise the situation or to play it down. Take it extremely seriously, always, when someone says they are feeling suicidal.
It can sometimes be hard for a person to hear the words “It will get better” or “You’ll be all right” because it may be impossible for them to envisage that, in the midst of deep depression. It can often be more helpful to let them know you empathise with their situation: “I can hear how extremely low/ depressed/distressed you are feeling”.
Please don’t comment that it is selfish to feel this way. A person who is feeling suicidal is in deep emotional pain. They are thinking in a way they would not think if they were well or if they were not highly distressed. They are not themselves at this point.
The phrase “Stay strong” can be unhelpful, too. It implies that feeling suicidal may be “weak”. It is not about strength or weakness. Every one of us has a limit to what we can endure. A suicidal crisis can happen to any one of us. It takes huge courage to say that you are feeling suicidal and to seek help. We should be emphasising that.
joy-hibbins-for-media-1Joy Hibbins is the Founder and CEO of a charity (Suicide Crisis) which runs a Suicide Crisis Centre in Gloucestershire. For information about the Crisis Centre phone 07975 974455 or visit suicidecrisis.co.uk

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