Guest Post by Independent Advocate and Suicide Champion, Jasmine 

“The majority of people who feel suicidal do not actually want to die; they do not want to live the life they have.”

It may not be the most popular topic round the dinner table and one that is still relatively taboo to discuss with anyone but your GP, but suicide is something we need to get out into the open.

Even the way we talk about it – when we eventually do – is all wrong. How often do you see that someone has ‘committed’ suicide – or tried to ‘commit’ suicide? The word committed stems back to when suicide was a crime, and to this day is still used to explain somebody who has chosen to die this way, provoking thoughts that suicide is somehow wrong or disapproved of.

Suicide is a journey. People don’t wake up suddenly thinking of suicide, people go on a journey with their mental health, which results in thoughts and plans of taking their own life. So how about we start to use the term ‘completing suicide' instead?

Until suicide impacts your life – whether it be by suicidal thoughts, or the death of a loved one – I bet you have probably never discussed or debated this topic out loud. We have a long way to go in our understanding of suicide as a society and our acceptance of mental illness.

Often people who die by suicide don’t want to take their own life, they just want to escape the situation/feeling they are in and feel this is their only way to do so. This highlights the importance of being able to feel confident to speak to others about our feelings – most of the time we do not want to die, we just are desperately unhappy with our current situation and cannot see a way out. It is important to speak about suicide and mental health before people get into that part of their journey.

Is Suicide on the Rise?

The recent deaths of reality star Sophie Gradon and her boyfriend Aaron Armstrong thrust suicide into the spotlight once again but has now, once more, quietened down. The same with Robin Williams and Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington. People would share things on social media, we’d mention it with our friends, but then we’d all go back to living our lives, forgetting this silent killer amongst those in the grips of mental illness.

"It is important to remember that everyone has mental health, it is part of your overall health, but sometimes, just like your physical health, your mind can become ill."

Suicide is a mental illness, it is not selfish or ungrateful. It has been linked to a rise in social media usage and has even been called a ‘silent epidemic’ in the media, with children as young as six taking their own lives. And mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety continue to increase amongst a population rife with debt, identity crises, unemployment and more.

The official statistic is 1 in 4 people suffer with mental health, however many professionals state this is probably much higher. It is important to remember that mental health is a part of your overall health and sometimes, just like your physical health, your mind can become ill.

Suicide is the largest cause of preventable deaths. Male rates remain consistently higher than female suicide rates across the UK and Republic of Ireland – most notably five times higher in Republic of Ireland and around three times in the UK.  In fact, the highest suicide rate in the UK in 2017 was for men aged 40–44, who more often than not, don’t seek help and don’t share their struggles out loud.

But female suicide rates are also on the rise, with more women aged 20-24 now taking their own lives than has ever been recorded. Female suicide rates have increased by 76% in this age bracket over the last decade. Experts have blamed this on a ‘selfie culture’ infatuated with social media and media coverage of women.

80-90% of people who complete suicide have ill mental health, however not all of these are diagnosed. Shockingly, only around 27% of those have contacted mental health services in the year before completing suicide. This needs to increase, so that people can get the help they need before getting to that stage in their journey.

Time to take it seriously

"We need to accept suicidal thoughts as a society and learn to teach young people to recognise mental illness symptoms and teach them that there is help and hope."

We all take road safety very seriously.  Stop, look, listen and think is ingrained to us from a young age and taught in schools all over the UK. But about, 1,700 people die on the roads in the UK each year, compared to nearly 6,000 by suicide – this works out at an average of 15 people a day in England alone.

We need to accept suicidal thoughts as a society and learn to teach young people to recognise mental illness symptoms and teach them that there is help and hope. We can do this by starting small and starting to open discussions about thoughts and feelings.

Starting the conversation

"Remember that by starting a discussion on suicide, you will never give someone the idea of suicide or push someone into it."

I know suicide is difficult to bring up in conversation – it’s incredibly morbid and as with anything related to death we simply like to put it out of our minds. It’s easy to say ‘oh just come off social media’ or ‘just try to relax’, or say judgemental statements such as “you’re not going to go hurt yourself, are you?” to someone who is suffering, but more often than not these things won’t help. There will be underlying mental health problems that can continue to fester until treated properly.

Remember that by starting a discussion on suicide, you will never give someone the idea of suicide or push someone into it, all it does is allow the subject to be explored openly, and maybe that’s what that person needs.

Often, just asking someone how they are, or how their day has been can really help. Sometimes it can help to repeat phrases that the person is using, and asking “what do you mean by that”, to try to expand their thoughts and feelings. Often, openly using the word suicide or asking “have you ever thought of ending your life” get the subject brought up easily without any confusion. Most people will say no and not think anything of your question, but if they are feeling that way, it will be a relief that someone has been so open and non-judgemental.

If you know somebody that is struggling with mental health or thoughts of suicide, don’t be afraid to ask them how they are coping. Maybe take them out for the day or just relax with them doing something they enjoy so that they don’t feel alone or isolated.

If you are feeling suicidal yourself, try to speak to someone about it and explain how you are feeling. Talking really can help alleviate strong feelings, but also someone else may be able to see other options that you are struggling to see at the moment. Speaking to family, friends, a confidential helpline, or even a professional such as a GP really is an important step to getting the help you need to feel better.

Is self-harm related to suicide?

Self-harm is an indication of distress, however this can be different to suicidal ideation so don’t assume that if someone is self-harming that they are having suicidal thoughts but do recognise it as a cry for help.

Who can you speak to if you’re feeling suicidal?