World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10th. The theme this year is “Take a minute, change a life”. I know there are many times in my life that I can look back on and wish that someone had stopped to ask how I was doing. The pressures and pain of life can be so intense and distracting that a kind word and a compassionate, listening ear can be all we need to feel valued, to feel noticed, to regain some perspective and to take the next step forward.
We can question whether a small act like asking “Is everything okay?” could possibly help someone having thoughts of suicide, but the truth is it can. According to the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP):
“Every year, more than 800,000 people die by suicide and up to 25 times as many make a suicide attempt. Behind these statistics are the individual stories of those who have, for many different reasons, questioned the value of their own lives.
Each one of these individuals is part of a community. Some may be well linked in to this community, and have a network of family, friends and work colleagues or school mates. Others may be less well connected, and some may be quite isolated. Regardless of the circumstances, communities have an important role to play in supporting those who are vulnerable.
As members of communities, it is our responsibility to look out for those who may be struggling, check in with them, and encourage them to tell their story in their own way and at their own pace. Offering a gentle word of support and listening in a non-judgemental way can make all the difference.
Take A Minute to Listen
"People who have lived through a suicide attempt have much to teach us about how the words and actions of others are important. They often talk movingly about reaching the point where they could see no alternative but to take their own life, and about the days, hours and minutes leading up to this. They often describe realising that they did not want to die but instead wanted someone to intervene and stop them. Many say that they actively sought someone who would sense their despair and ask them whether they were okay.
Sometimes they say that they made a pact with themselves that if someone did ask if they were okay, they would tell them everything and allow them to intervene. Sadly, they often reflect that no one asked…Almost universally, they say that if someone had taken a minute, the trajectory that they were on could have been interrupted.
Life is precious and sometimes precarious. Taking a minute to reach out to someone – a complete stranger or close family member or friend – can change the course of their life.” (Source: https://iasp.info/wspd2017/)
Changing a Life
It might be difficult to picture yourself saving someone’s life; feeling like you have to know the “right” thing to say and to have all the answers is intimidating, and honestly impossible. Remember that it’s really not about what you say, but that you care about the person and that you are there to listen, with empathy and not with judgement. Ultimately, the outcome is not up to you, but when you are available, non-judgemental, and willing to help connect them to services in the community equipped and available to help in times of crisis, it can make all the difference! No one has all the answers in life, but we can all be companions to each other on the journey.
Many of us have taken CPR and First Aid training at some point in our lives to help in times of physical crisis. We learn to call for help, and manage the situation as best as we can with the methods we’ve learned until those emergency responders can arrive. Did you know that there are Mental Health First Aid courses to equip you to help someone experiencing an emotional or mental health crisis? Just like CPR and First Aid, they help equip you to see when someone might be in crisis, communicate effectively with them, and also where to find the best community resources to connect them with.
Here are a few links to training and online resources that we’ve found helpful (we’ll be looking at some of these in more depth in future articles):
Thank you for taking a minute to read this article! If there is anyone that you might be concerned about today, please take a minute and check in with them. Don’t be afraid to ask “Are you thinking about suicide?” if you’re concerned that they might be.
Or, if you are struggling today, please take a minute and tell someone – someone you can talk with right now. You can also check out our resources page for helplines in your area with kind and caring people ready to listen: https://howtokillyourself.org/resources/