This World Mental Health Day, Dr. Peter Aitken, Director of Research and Development, writes about the importance of recognising those around us at risk of suicide, and what we can each do to help prevent the tragedy.
Suicide, the taking of one's own life, is thankfully a rare thing. In our county of Devon and Plymouth where around one million people live, we will lose around one hundred lives each year. Nevertheless, these are very important lives. They are lives often cut short, lives that matter to a great many other people and their loss leaves emotional scars that sit across generations and can be very difficult to heal.
We have learned from people who have survived extreme attempts to take their own lives that over 80% regretted their action in the instant they took it. If only we could find vulnerable people and offer them an alternative before that moment of tragic action.
To spot people vulnerable to taking their own lives is difficult. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. Even when we know there are likely to be more people vulnerable in certain groups - people in touch with mental health services, for instance - the numbers are so small they can be very difficult to find.
Most people who take their own lives are not in touch with mental health services. Up to a third are not in touch with any services.
We want to change that.
We want to make it easier for all of us to spot vulnerable people and we want to make it much easier for vulnerable people to be brought to help that works for them.
If we are to do this we need every one of the million of us in Devon and Plymouth to be able to recognise a vulnerable person, know how to ask the right questions and listen with kindness and without judgement. Most importantly they need to know where to get help.
When we lose a life to suicide it’s important that we don’t dwell on the location or means of their death. It is important that we value the life lived and tell their story. This helps those who have lost a person who mattered to be able to talk about them without shame or stigma.
Those left behind need support and we are fortunate in Devon to have Pete's Dragons, our post-vention support team who come around those bereaved and help them onto their journey of recovery. Evidence tells us that, on average, around 30 members of the family, friends and others are adversely impacted in some way when a person takes their own life.
Suicide prevention has come along way. We have reduced access to lethal means and taken action at high risk locations. We are also trying to work with local print, online and broadcast media to ensure that they report suicides responsibly and compassionately - we know that irresponsible reporting can lead directly to further deaths.
If we all now work together we can learn to:
Recognise vulnerable people,
Ask the right questions,
Listen with kindness and without judgement and
Know what to do, together we can make a difference.
Dr. Peter Aitken was recently filmed by BBC Spotlight to raise awareness of suicide prevention, it will air over the coming days.