What can your kindness do in suicide prevention?
This is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK known as ‘MHAW’, you may of seen, heard and/or read many events, discussions around the focus theme of kindness. In my role as a Mental Health Ally for the Ministry of Justice I wrote a piece around suicide prevention earlier this year. I have revisited this to think about this in the context of MHAW. And how does this relate to kindness? Kindness has mental health therefore suicide prevention at its very core, I would suggest.
What is kindness? The ability to listen, be generous, be considerate and friendly.
So, I introduce the concept and role of kindness in suicide prevention.
Starting a conversation about suicide is difficult for anyone, but especially difficult for the person that is living life with suicidal thoughts. It’s strange, we know of its presence through friends, family or work colleagues, yet do you know that it is one of the biggest killers for men under 45 in the UK. So it’s probably at yours, mine or your neighbour’s doorstep now and yet we just don’t talk enough about it in society, relative to its impact and prevalence. Many people have thoughts about ending their life, because their life has just got too difficult to deal with. They don’t say anything to anyone because there is an attitude in society that we just don’t talk about these things. Keep calm and carry on and don’t get emotional. Basically, if you are struggling, keep it to yourself.
Through listening, you can get a sense of whether someone is struggling with life. If they say things like ‘I can’t go on anymore’-‘people would be better off without me’-‘I don’t see the point of it all’, it’s important to gently and clearly ask, ‘when you say that, are you saying you’re feeling suicidal?’. Be direct and to the point.
When I was a Samaritan volunteer, I would always ask someone this question when they contacted the service. You can never assume that someone is ok. I sometimes thought to myself that a caller sounded cheerful, yet was surprised when I asked them if they had thought about suicide, that they would say that they had been thinking about it every day.
Asking someone whether they want to end their life can feel difficult, but it’s also kind, you are listening and showing an interest in them. Talking about suicide and mentioning the word does not make someone feel suicidal, so don’t avoid it. In fact, it can alleviate the feelings that someone is having, because they are having the chance (perhaps for the first time) to talk about what issues are troubling them.
Be considerate to what someone is feeling, it isn’t helpful to say ‘oh everything will be ok’ or ‘you’ll be ok’. In that moment, everything isn’t alright for them and they are not ok, because they have got to the point where they are talking about ending their life. Be considerate by just listening. Acknowledge their distress and be generous in offering any support you are willing to give. Generosity could be direct offers to call once a week, perhaps giving your time for volunteering or doing something in the community. Generosity is your decision, so don’t dwell on thoughts of rejection if it isn’t wanted or received in the way you hoped.
Suicidal thoughts are an important gauge to how someone is feeling. It’s essential though to also ask the person you are talking to if they have already hurt themselves or if they have made plans to end their life. Having plans is another step on from having thoughts and the person you are talking to may need more urgent and immediate support. Asking them will help you provide the right kind of assistance. It may be that you feel it’s not best to leave someone on their own, so get professional help by calling 999 or local mental health services.
If you want to talk to someone you are concerned about that isn’t in obvious urgent and immediate need, then think about how can start a conversation and do it. So what sort of support is there if you want to do something practical? Maybe you have a scheme at work like the Mental Health Ally at the Ministry of Justice. Alternatively Mental Health Awareness week has a resource page for getting help or providing help. There is some excellent training and advice for online suicide prevention, provided by an alliance of NHS trust, business and individuals committed to suicide prevention. This is a free 20 minute training course about suicide prevention. The aims of this training are to: enable people to identify when someone is presenting with suicidal thoughts/behaviour; to be able to speak out in a supportive manner; and to empower them to signpost the individual to the correct services or support.
I leave you with the possibility that the best expression of kindness could be asking someone today how they are doing? Listening carefully to what they say. It’s possible that this act of kindness could go a long way, to help someone start a very important conversation, which saves their life.