A HOXBY ASSOCIATE TALKS ABOUT HOW TO BETTER UNDERSTAND SUICIDE AND SHARES THEIR CANDID AND MOVING STORY.
Globally, the World Health Organisation estimates that close to 800,000 people die from suicide every year. That’s one person every 40 seconds. This figure is also likely to be an underestimate, with some suicides being classified as unintentional injuries.
While many of us have experienced ‘down days’, the emotions some of us experience go far beyond feeling a little low or deflated. As the International Society for Suicide Prevention reports, “Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages.”
But suicide is preventable and it’s something that needs to be talked about. I want to share with you what I know, and how I came to know it.
Why do people die by/contemplate suicide?
There are many factors and circumstances that can contribute to someone considering taking their own life, and these will differ from person to person. However, the following mental health concerns can all increase someone’s risk of having suicidal thoughts:
But it’s not just mental health issues that are contributory factors in suicide – and not everyone experiencing such issues will feel suicidal – as acute emotional pain caused by traumatic life events is also a significant factor. This includes:
- Breakup or loss of a significant other
- Loss of a child or close friend
- Financial distress
- Persistent feelings of failure or shame
- A serious medical condition or terminal illness
- Legal trouble, such as being convicted of a crime
- Adverse childhood experiences, like trauma, abuse, or bullying
- Discrimination, racism, or other challenges related to being an immigrant or minority
- Having a gender identity or sexual orientation that’s unsupported by family or friends
How can we understand more about suicide?
One of the first things we can do is to destigmatize suicide by openly talking about it. But we should also consider the language we use and the effect this may have. For example, people often use the phrase “commit suicide”, but this suggests that suicide is commited in the same way a crime might be. Suicide is not a crime.
While it’s not always possible to spot whether someone is having suicidal thoughts, experts say there are often warning signs. These may include a person talking about feeling helpless or hopeless and saying they feel as if they’re letting others down, excessive alcohol or drug abuse, self harm and/or saying they have no reason to live.
If you identify any of these warning signs or know someone is feeling suicidal, the important first step should be to acknowledge the person’s feelings and try not to minimise their problems or undermine them. They are likely to feel scared, confused and overwhelmed, so reassure them that help is out there and point them in the direction of a medical professional or an organisation trained to deal with such situations.
Suicide prevention organisiations
The following organisations work to prevent suicide:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- International Association for Suicide Prevention
- World Health Organisation Suicide Prevention
Although I’ve never attempted suicide, it’s not something I could say I haven’t thought about. I self-harmed throughout my teenage years and then into my 30’s and 40’s and have been medicated for depression since 2001.
In 2008, I started a relationship with another woman, ‘J’. She had two teenage children living with her who were quick to see me as part of their family. About a year or so in, things started to change. She suddenly announced that she wanted to transition to a man – it was a huge surprise to all of us.
But despite trying my best to support J by introducing him to some of my trans friends and ordering him various apparel, I found the subsequent frustrations and personality changes that followed hard to deal with. J wanted me to change with him and identify as a straight female. I found this so hard as I’d struggled to accept my sexuality for most of my life and, if I’m honest, I didn’t want to experience another ‘macho’, controlling relationship again.
I felt I was losing control of myself and, one day, found myself calling the Samaritans following another self-harming session. I ended up going to the local hospital to talk to a psychologist and subsequently J and I agreed things weren’t going to work and went our separate ways. Soon after, he began regular testosterone treatment.
One day when I was at work, I had a call from J saying that his daughter, ’M’, had taken an overdose and had been rushed to hospital. We eventually found out that she was being bullied at school and was unable to cope with J’s transition. Understandably, she wanted her mum to stay the same and she didn’t like the fact that the testosterone had changed him so much.
We took M to see a counsellor every two weeks, but things didn’t get any better for her. The more J changed, the more M retreated within herself. She refused to go to school, preferring to get drunk in the park with her friends, where we’d have to go and find her.
M attempted suicide another three times before we finally got her into a unit where she could be monitored and her mental health nurtured. One weekend, they agreed that M could come home for the night. She seemed happier and excited to see us when we collected her. Later that morning, while J was at work, M said she wanted pizza for dinner so I left her, just for a short while, to pop to the shop.
When I got back, the house felt strange and eerily quiet. I shouted up the stairs that I was back, but got no reply. I can remember my heart thumping so hard in my chest as I made my way up the stairs to M’s room. I knocked. Nothing. My hands were shaking as I pushed the door open.
She was lying on the bed with four empty packets of paracetamol on the floor. I also found a razor blade, that we later found out she’d been given by another girl at the unit, but fortunately she hadn’t used it. I checked M and managed to find a weak pulse then put her in the recovery position before calling an ambulance.
I felt so much guilt, even though I knew I’d done everything I could. I couldn’t get her to open up to me and she refused to talk about anything.
Eventually, we found a different unit and M was happy to stay there. J moved away and M completed her schooling and got a flat with a friend.
Today, M works with young people who have mental health issues and goes to secondary schools to talk about what she’s been through and the help that’s available. She now has two beautiful daughters and, at last, seems to be happy again.
Suicide can affect any one of us and can be born from any situation. Having professional services available is so valuable in getting the right help as soon as possible. If you’re worried about yourself or anyone else, please get advice.
If you need to talk or would like support
It’s important to recognise the signs that you, or someone you know, may need to talk openly or have a shoulder to cry on. Please, don’t wait; remember that there is lots of support out there, including:
For advice on suicide, please contact:
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- International Association for Suicide Prevention
- Suicide prevention
You can find a list of worldwide suicide hotlines at Global Suicide Hotline Resources.
At Hoxby, we continually provide our community with permanent access to mental health resources alongside engaging awareness activities, such as our monthly Mental Health Meet-Ups and #TheWorkWithoutBias hangouts for people to discuss all things wellbeing.