Creating positive change to prevent suicide

Published: 08/09/2022

Author: Chukumeka Maxwell

Hope is a key component to preventing suicide.

As a whole, we have a shared responsibility to prevent people taking their own lives however in order to do so there needs to be greater investment and understanding into why people feel suicidal.

This year has been an extremely difficult one for many. We are facing the rising costs of food and energy, workers striking across many sectors, staff shortages in the NHS and social care, and major global events like the ongoing war in Ukraine.

World Suicide Prevention Day aims to create hope through action, providing the opportunity for people across the globe to raise awareness of suicide and suicide prevention.

Confronting the stigma around suicide

Suicide is a global issue that on average takes someone’s life every 40 seconds. This equates to more than 700,000 every year. According to official figures, the number of suicides in the UK has decreased. Whilst this is a great improvement, there is still a lot of work to be done to prevent suicides, nationally and globally.

On a personal note, I have unfortunately experienced a great deal of loss this year. This has caused me to further my resolve and continue to create hope through action. I recently attended an online international session regarding the decriminalisation of suicide.

Discussing the stigma around suicide in different cultures, I was surprised to see how broad the implications are around the world. However, I am of an age to remember similar attitudes in the UK in the 1970’s. It is vital that we are aware of this stigma in order to support others – and ourselves – when responding to suicide.

Safer prescribing and social prescribing

One of the aspects that has recently come to light is the fact that we need to think about the way we address factors that may contribute to making someone feel suicidal.

A dear friend who lost her son to suicide has for years campaigned for doctors to see the patient before prescribing medication which poses the risk of suicidal feelings. Risk communication is now part of NICE guidance to ensure that clinicians communicate properly with patients.

Hence our reiteration that suicide prevention is everyone's responsibility – it is so important to shine a light on these issues.

On World Suicide Prevention Day, we are launching a letter to GPs and clinicians to offer support to understand the benefits of using social prescribing, which aims to support people with their health and wellbeing.

The five ways to wellbeing

The five ways to wellbeing are a set of evidence-based public mental health messages aimed at improving the mental health and wellbeing of the whole population. These steps can be used to help individuals to feel more positive and able to get the most out of life.

The five steps are:

Creating positive connections can alleviate loneliness and isolation, which is extremely important for mental wellbeing. This includes connection to oneself as well as connection to others.

One survivor of a suicide attempt from the Golden Gate Bridge said that as he was walking towards his attempt, if one person had engaged with him, he would have not gone ahead with his attempt. A simple connection like a smile can be all someone needs in that moment of feeling so distressed.  

Continued learning through life can help to improve self-esteem, create new social connections and build a sense of purpose.

It is important to always keep an open mind because we never really know what is going on with someone else. Question and use evidence to be active in changing attitudes.

Being active can be beneficial for mental and physical wellbeing. The activity does not have to be strenuous to improve fitness and mental wellbeing. Research shows dancing is a great form of exercise and can help to provide a boost in mood and improve mental wellbeing, as does gardening.

Taking notice of things around you and practice mindfulness which can help broaden and strengthen awareness. Paying attention to the little things can also help us notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier and helps us deal with them better.

Meditation and breathing can also help one press the pause button when responding to a stressful situation.

Giving doesn't necessarily mean material goods, it may be giving yourself more time for self-care, or giving time to other people. Research into actions for promoting happiness has shown that committing an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in wellbeing.

n essence, the five ways to wellbeing are a very simple way to create hope through action to address the sense of disconnection that affects many people who may experience thoughts of suicide.

Now more than ever it is also important to practice CARE:

  • Compassion which enables connection to the suffering of others.
  • Acceptance of their situation and their pain.
  • Respect and kindness, seeing them as a fellow human being worthy of a good life.
  • Empathy which fuels our courage, hope and ability to respond through right action.

Hope through action

This letter of hope was written by a group of people for the NHS Devon Partnership who wish to offer help and hope to those who are thinking about suicide. It can be shared locally, nationally and internationally to help engage with people who may be thinking about suicide and help them to feel supported. This small act by a group of people could very well be the thing that saves a life.

Finally, I encourage us all to practice self-care, to care for others, and to work collectively to create hope through action to prevent suicide.

Chukumeka Maxwell

Chukumeka Maxwell is the founder and advisor for Goodwill in Action to Prevent Suicide CIO. He was the founding Director of Action to Prevent Suicide CIC, a not-for-profit community interest company whose vision is for a life-affirming world free from suicide.