Mental Health Training

Suicide: To prevent it we need to believe it preventable, By Jane McNeice

Posted by on 19 Jun, 2020 in Mental Health |

Suicide: To prevent it we need to believe it preventable, By Jane McNeice

With suicide rates increasing in the UK since 2013, the 2018 figure showing 6,507 people dying by suicide, a significant increase on 2017 (Office of National Statistics), and a sense that this is only likely to continue in light of the impact of Covid-19 Coronavirus, it is ever more important that we shine a spotlight on suicide and how we can prevent it.

There are a number of interventions that support suicide prevention, some direct, and some less so. Mind Matters offers some of these in the form of evidence based training courses that equip people to be ‘Suicide Alert Helpers’ through safeTALK, or ‘Life Assisting Care-givers’ through the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). The tools are out there and accessible to many people and available on a global level. However there are barriers, obstacles that are preventing people from accessing them.

In both my personal and professional experience, one of the most significant obstacles I encounter is a mind-set that suicide is not preventable. It sits deep in peoples’ psyche and often (consciously or unconsciously) contributes to their views and attitudes about suicide. The evidence base however tells us something different. There is a wealth of contradictory evidence and support material provided by organisations such as WHO (World Health Organisation), as cited in their factsheet ‘Suicide’ (2019), and also evidenced in practice through the work of Joy Hibbins and her team at the Suicide Crisis Centre in Gloucester. Joy’s incredible work is shared through her book ‘Suicide Prevention Techniques: How a suicide crisis service saves lives (2018).

The mind-set that suicide is not preventable is driven by various things, historical and current, and can relate to our own frame of reference and experience around suicide. If you have suffered the painful loss of someone you love and care about to suicide, to accept that suicide is preventable could lead you to feel that you yourself didn’t prevent it, and the whole range of negative emotions that might stem from related negative thoughts. But there is a flaw in this thinking too. This thinking comes from a place that you are the only person who could have and should have saved them, and the sole responsibility was placed with you. When in fact the opposite is true, as a society we have a collective responsibility to prevent suicide, just the same as the collective responsibility we have to prevent the spread of Covid-19. We all have a part to play, so it can never be one person’s fault, and one person should not and cannot carry this unbearable weight of guilt and responsibility. LivingWorks who developed and license the suicide prevention courses that Mind Matters deliver have worked (and continue to work) tirelessly to develop what they describe as a ‘suicide safer community’, a community that works together to prevent suicide and is driven by the belief that suicide is preventable. In order to increase the number of people who are equipped to prevent suicide we need to change the fundamental societal belief that suicide is not preventable. Why would anyone embrace an intervention such as suicide training if they don’t believe it preventable? If we believed we couldn’t safeguard children or vulnerable adults we wouldn’t access safeguarding training, if we believed we could never learn to drive we wouldn’t take driving lessons, if we believed we could never learn to read and write we would never embrace education. To reduce the numbers of people dying by suicide across the world, we need to believe it preventable, which then creates a positive foundation to access the current interventions. Better still, it also means we are likely to have the impetus to develop and invest in new and innovative suicide prevention interventions,  be ambitious in our plans and targets to save lives, and most importantly we change hopelessness to hope. It’s not an easy belief to sustain, it’s challenged from a lot of quarters, including ourselves, and so it requires us to be steadfast and tenacious in that belief, regardless of suicide rates – one death, is one too many – and our own experiences of loss to suicide. As a person who also strives to achieve the goal of a ‘suicide safer community’, with less people dying by suicide and less people being impacted by the loss of someone to suicide, I’m asking readers to work on a new mind-set, a mind-set that suicide is preventable, so that we can prevent future suicides.

Stay safe everyone.