Raising awareness, challenge thinking, inspire leadership

All of the above are key phrases that I apply in all of my trainings.  I don’t aim to create experts.  I focus more on cultivating important discussions that society both needs to have and wants to have.  My aim is to cultivate minds.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, a day which is very personal to me.  I’ve written before on why this day is important to me  –


How would you react to a friend who you are concerned about?  Maybe they have been isolating themselves from you and other friends.  Maybe they have just gone through a marriage breakup, maybe a loss of a close family member.  Maybe they have just posted a message on social media saying that they feel that they are a burden to their friends and family.

These and many other ‘red flag’s are there for the spotting.  If we really believe that ‘Every life matters’ then surely there is a role for every one of us to do our bit to look out for those who may be struggling.

Is suicide a problem in my community?  Recent statistics in Scotland suggest it is a serious problem.  Numbers of people dying by suicide has risen to the highest level in five years with death rates for people aged 15-24 up 50%.  There were 780 probable suicides in Scotland in 2018 compared to 680 in 2017, a rise of 15%.  In 2018 the suicide rates for males was more than three times than that for females.

When you dive deeper into these statistics you see that it is unemployed people who represent the biggest group dying by suicide.  One in Four people who died by suicide were unemployed at the time.

Would you know the warning signs to look out for?  I’ve detailed some above, but others include:

  • Talking about or making plans for suicide
  • Expressing hopelessness about the future
  • Displaying overwhelming emotional pain or stress
  • Worrisome changes in behaviour
  • Anger or hostility
  • Recent increased agitation or irritability.

Yes, I hear you saying but these won’t always be signs of suicide.  I agree but how will you find out if you don’t ask.  Silence is powerful and I feel we need to own our silence, especially when faced with these and other red flags.

Ok so what about a person who posts on social media that they are going to kill themselves.  Are they serious?  Do they really mean it?  Is this just a cry for attention?

FACT – a person who says they want to end their lives should always be taken seriously.  It may well be that they want attention in the sense that calling out may save their live.

Here’s another area of confusion for some.  Do you think a person who is feeling suicidal wants to die?  I always think back to the time I met mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin.  He talked about his journey to Waterloo Bride in London where he intended to take his own life.  Standing on the bridge intending to jump it took one voice from behind him to make him change his mind.  It took one person to provide the hope to help Jonny on this day.  HOPE IS A BIG PERSUADER

I think people who are in this horrible space don’t want to die, they just don’t want to live the life they have.  With my father’s experience I think this is especially true.  He had everything to keep going: his grandkids, me, my brother.  He for some reason just felt it was time.

If we mention the word suicide to a person in this state could we make them actually do it?  That’s a real fear that many still have.  It’s a myth.  You can’t make an already bad situation any worse.  Suicide is still a taboo topic.  Often people feeling suicidal don’t want to worry or burden anyone so they won’t discuss it (some will).

By asking directly about suicide you give a person permission to tell you how they feel.  You remove the taboo associated with the word.  What I’ve learned is that people who feel suicidal will often say what a relief it is to be able to talk about what they are experiencing.  Once you get someone talking, they have a much better chance of seeing the options that don’t involve suicide.  They feel validated and know that they are cared for.  Reaching out can save a person’s life.

So what’s your plan when you spot the red flags.  Remember what I said above about not really finding out until you step in.  This won’t be easy.  You will be thinking what if I get it wrong.  What if you are right?  Will I lose a friendship if I get it wrong?  Ask yourself what do friends do for each other and get on with it.

Some tips from me include:

  • Reach out, ask if they are ok.
  • Actually ask if they are having suicidal thoughts.
  • Express your concern about what you are observing. Lean into the issue.
  • Listen and don’t make judgements
  • Acknowledge what they say to you. Any validation is powerful for people at times of crisis.
  • Tell them that you are there to help them
  • Guide them to professional help. Samaritans 116 123 is a good start
  • Get help yourself. Consider Samaritans as a place to get advice.

Suicide remains a serious issue across Scotland.  Thirty years as a Scottish police officer taught me many things but when it comes to prevention, I believe it’s in our communities that we hold the best chance to prevent suicide.

Don’t be a bystander, be a friend.

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