World Suicide Prevention Day: How to help someone who may be suffering

The Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland is warning of as much as a 30% increase in demand for mental health services as the region emerges from lockdown.
There are many ways you can help a loved one you may be concerned about. Credit: UTV
  • Report by ITV News Multimedia Producer Elisa Menendez

Every week, 125 people die by suicide across the UK. Of those deaths, 75% are males.

According to the latest Office for National Statistics, there was a decrease in suicides in 2020 compared to the year before, but there were still 5,224 lives lost to suicide in England and Wales last year alone.

Friday marks World Suicide Prevention Day - a day of raising awareness around mental health and how to better help people who may be suffering in silence.

It is a day when social media is flooded with messages urging others to check in on friends and to remember to be kind - but suicide is a difficult subject to navigate and many still don't feel confident broaching it with a loved one they may be worried about.

How to look out for the signs of potential suicidal thoughts:

Many people suffering with mental health concerns and suicidal thoughts can often struggle to talk about how they're feeling and attempt to cover up it up.

According to the charity CALM, someone experiencing suicidal thoughts may exhibit some of the following signs:

  • Ups and downs in their mood

  • Wanting to hang out less

  • Changes to their routine, like sleeping and eating

  • Seeming flat or low on energy

  • Neglecting themselves, showering less, or caring less about their personal appearance

  • Seeming reckless or making rash decisions

  • Increased alcohol or drug abuse

  • Being more angry or irritable than usual

  • Talking about suicide/wanting to die in a vague or joking way

  • Giving away their possessions

  • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if they won’t see them again

The charity adds that if something simply feels off with a loved one, then "trust your instinct".

How to support and help someone who may be showing signs of suicidal thoughts:

CALM recommends using the "ALAN" guide - Ask, Listen, Action and Network - when trying to support a loved one you are concerned about.

CEO Simon Gunning recommends active listening and asking someone outright if they are ok - but above all, "don’t allow them to fester in the dark".

If the person struggles to answer the question or deflects, don't be afraid to ask again.

But if someone really won’t open up, Mr Gunning suggests calling CALM's helpline for advice on how best to help them.

CALM recommends four pointers to help a friend Credit: CALM

Mr Gunning urged people not to shy away from discussing suicide, and told ITV News: "If you don’t talk about suicide and if you are scared of it, and tip toe around it, you create a ghetto for it where you allow it to be a secret and a shameful one."

Joe Rafferty, chairman of the Zero Suicide Alliance, which provides free suicide prevention training, echoed Mr Gunning's concerns.

He said a crucial part of the organisation's training - which takes just 20 minutes - “breaks the myth” that if you talk to people about suicide, a person is more likely to attempt to take their own life.

“Actually all the evidence shows that if you talk to people in the right way, empathetically and with interest about suicide, you decrease the chance of them attempting to complete a suicide,” said Mr Rafferty.

He said about 70-80% of people they encounter believe suicide is inevitable. But after undergoing their training that number drops to 10%.

“That’s really important because if you think something is inevitable how are you going to prevent it?" said Mr Rafferty.

“Getting people to move from the notion of inevitability to preventability is so crucial - this really simple training tool does that.

“There’s a double benefit to take a 20-minute detour in your day, so please do the training.”

Deryn, whose younger brother Daniel took his own life in May 2020 after suffering with depression and anxiety for eight years, said she never thought she was "the right person" to help.

She thought only a mental health professional or a doctor could help him.

Speaking of her brother's death through tears, Deryn said: "It was just unbelievable.

"Losing someone is hard enough, and losing someone by suicide - there’s nothing like it. There’s nothing that I can compare it to."

"I thought that I was not the right person to help my brother with suicidal thoughts," she said.

"Now I know that suicide is preventable, suicide is everybody’s business, anybody can prevent somebody from taking their own life."

How to help those bereaved by suicide:

For some, it is tragically too late for prevention and days like World Suicide Prevention Day can be painful reminders of loved ones lost.

All types of grief can cause great suffering but research shows people bereaved by suicide can suffer the most intense feelings of shame, responsibility and guilt when compared with people bereaved by other sudden deaths.

“This type of loss is different, often more complicated, and lasts longer than other types of grief," a spokesperson for Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SoBS) told ITV News.

People who have lost a loved one to suicide can have an increased risk of mental health problems and suicide attempts.

According to the national suicide bereavement report 2020, 60% of respondents did not access support after losing a loved one to suicide, while over a third did not know what types of support services were available.

More worryingly, 38% had considered taking their own life following the suicide, a third suffered mental health problems, and a fifth engaged in other high risk activities, such as substance abuse.

Mr Gunning told ITV News: "Suicide is contagious, especially around family groups… but hope is also contagious."

"Anyone who is bereaved must not neglect themselves. It’s a very specialised, awful experience," he urged.

If you want to support a bereaved friend or family member, The Support After Suicide Partnership's Finding The Words Guide lists several things to say and do to help:

  • Be an active listener

  • Offer an extra pair of hands

  • Be patient

  • Listen rather than offer solutions

  • Share memories of the person who died

  • Challenge stigmatising language and attitudes around suicide

  • Don't push for details about the suicide

  • Don't speculate about the reasons for the suicide

  • Don't avoid them or avoid the subject

Some charities and resources to help those bereaved by suicide:

Finding The Words is a guide to help people offer support to a friend or family member who is bereaved by suicide.

Suicide & Co offers suicide bereavement counselling, a list of crisis support and a help hub.

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide is a national peer-to-peer support service for those over the age of 18 years impacted by loss through suicide. All volunteers have been bereaved by suicide for at least two years.

CALM's helpline can offer support to people struggling.

Suicide Bereavement UK offers resources for those bereaved and for postvention care, along with educational materials.

The Support After Suicide Partnership offers a list of where to find the right support for you.

If you have an emergency and a life is in danger contact the emergency services on 999. Samaritans is available 24/7 and can be called free on 116 123.