Loss and bereavement are complex subjects, but death by suicide is an aspect that challenges us all to the core. In this unprecedented time, staying connected has never been more important to keeping us safe and in preventing people from taking their own lives.
For the third year running ‘Working Together’ is the theme for World Suicide Prevention Day 2020 on 10 September. The World Health Organisation reports that an estimated 800,000 people lose their life worldwide due to suicide, although it is widely believed that there are up to 25% more suicides than the official statistics present.
An initial thought is to remember that it easy to just look at statistics and forget that behind the figures are real people with real lives and it is important to understand the ripple effect of suicide that affects us all at some level.
Earlier this year we were privileged to listen to a filmed presentation called Mind the Gap by Dez Holmes, Director of Research in Practice. It highlighted the complex interwoven and contradictory legal frameworks around young people leading to adulthood. After watching the film we left feeling optimistic in responding to a rallying call for action and our pledges to change.
However, in what has been an unprecedented year we were met shortly afterward by an ongoing climate emergency, a new strain of a global pandemic and revitalised racial tensions highlighting inequalities through the Black Lives Matter movement.
Since March, these three things have radically affected us all personally, professionally, socially and economically in a manner unseen in many people's lifetimes. Whilst we saw aspects of nature regenerating, a somewhat perfect storm was potentially brewing for all of us wishing and hoping for a world freer of suicide. We have all had to respond to a universal global lockdown and all that it has and will entail.
In addition to supporting people who are bereaved, supporting those considering suicide can be complex, including many challenges and requiring multiple approaches to support their wellbeing. The Northamptonshire Health and Care Partnership suggests the ‘5 ways to wellbeing’ are connection, being active, taking notice, learning and giving.
In particular it is ‘connection’ which we want to highlight. In light of unprecedented change within worldwide culture and society the importance of staying connected has never been more. As the world has largely been locked down we have all moved more to the online world, and encountered some of the challenges that it presents.
Concern and fear have been highlighted regarding the world of online practice as opposed to face-to-face by various practitioners. Anxiety and fear increases the taboo and can present challenges in responding empathetically and affectively, but practitioners should have the courage to ask directly about suicide and hold calmly in your heart, whatever response comes forth. The watch words for face-to-face training is – what you see, what you hear and what you sense, but in a virtual environment this may be difficult to comprehend.
We must remember that safeguarding, both adults and children, can enable access to our most vulnerable in society and this can’t stop, even during lockdown. For example, much of the Samaritans work is done through telephone support and they also offer a very useful texting service called Shout.
In some cases lockdown has proved to enhance greater collaboration and sharing of information prior to COVID-19 boundaries. Key to the responsiveness was the voluntary sector and mutual aid groups, showing the spontaneous self-organising groups of men and women in action. The below diagram shows just how many of us across society are involved:
Suicide prevention, intervention and postvention is everyone’s business, we all have a part to play whether it is professional or personal.
The plea this year is for us all (with courage) to do whatever we can to prevent suicide beyond hope into life. Stay connected, be safe and we can all save lives.