The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 800,000 people die by suicide each year – that’s one person every 40 seconds. Up to 25 times as many again make a suicide attempt. Behind these statistics are the individual stories of those who have, for many different reasons, questioned the value of their own lives. Additionally, the tragic ripple effect means that there are many, many more people who have been bereaved by suicide or have been close to someone who has tried to take his or her own life. And this is happening in spite of the fact that suicide is preventable.
The day was first recognised in 2003, as an initiative of the International Association for Suicide Prevention and endorsed by the World Health Organization. World Suicide Prevention Day takes place each year on September 10.
On September 10, you can join with others around the world who are working towards the common goal of preventing suicide. Show your support by raising awareness through workplace, branch, regional, area or community action. You can find out what local activities have been scheduled or initiate activities yourself!
If there is anyone you are concerned about, take a minute to check in with them. It could change their life.
CWU's National Health, Safety & Environment Officer, Dave Joyce reports:
‘Take a Minute, Change a Life.’ is the theme of the 2017 World Suicide Prevention Day. These words are at the heart of suicide prevention.
Each one of these individuals is part of a community. Some may be well linked in to this community and their workplace and Union Branch, and they’ll have a network of family, friends and work colleagues or school mates. Others may be less well connected, and some may be quite isolated. Regardless of the circumstances, communities, workmates, first aiders and Union Reps for example have an important role to play in helping support those who are vulnerable.
This sentiment is reflected in the theme of the 2017 World Suicide Prevention Day: ‘Take a minute, change a life.’ As members of communities, it is our responsibility to look out for those who may be struggling, check in with them, and encourage them to tell their story in their own way and at their own pace. Offering a gentle word of support and listening in a non-judgemental way can make all the difference.
Taking a minute can change a life
People who have lived through a suicide attempt have much to teach us about how the words and actions of others are important. They often talk movingly about reaching the point where they could see no alternative but to take their own life, and about the days, hours and minutes leading up to this. They often describe realising that they did not want to die but instead wanted someone to intervene and stop them. Many say that they actively sought someone who would sense their despair and ask them whether they were okay.
Sometimes they say that they made a pact with themselves that if someone did ask if they were okay, they would tell them everything and allow them to intervene. Sadly, they often reflect that no one asked.
The individuals telling these stories are inspirational. Many of them recount reaching the point where they did try to take their own lives, and tell about coming through it. Many of them are now working as advocates for suicide prevention. Almost universally, they say that if someone had taken a minute, the trajectory that they were on could have been interrupted.
Life is precious and sometimes precarious. Taking a minute to reach out to someone – a complete stranger or close family member, a friend or work colleague – can change the course of their life.
No one has to have all the answers
People are often reluctant to intervene, even if they are quite concerned about someone. There are many reasons for this, not least that they fear they will not know what to say. It is important to remember, however, that there is no hard and fast formula. Individuals who have come through an episode of severe suicidal thinking often say that they were not looking for specific advice, but that compassion and empathy from others helped to turn things around for them and point them towards recovery.
Another factor that deters people from starting the conversation is that they worry that they may make the situation worse. Again, this hesitation is understandable; broaching the topic of suicide is difficult and there is a myth that talking about suicide with someone can put the idea into their head or trigger the act.
The evidence suggests that this is not the case. Being caring and listening with a non-judgemental ear are far more likely to reduce distress than exacerbate it.
There are various well-established resources that are designed to equip people to communicate effectively with those who might be vulnerable to suicide. Mental Health First Aid, for example, is premised on the idea that many people know what to do if they encounter someone who has had a physical health emergency, like a heart attack (dial an ambulance, administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation), but feel out of their depth if they are faced with someone experiencing a mental or emotional crisis. Mental Health First Aid teaches a range of skills, including how to provide initial support to someone in these circumstances.
There are numerous other examples too; relevant resources can be found on the websites of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (https://www.iasp.info/resources) and the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int).
Mental Health First Aid Training
The CWU Health, Safety & Environment Department has been raising awareness and promoting Mental Health First Aid Training for CWU Reps since the Courses became available in the UK and would continue to encourage CWU Reps to attend the 2-Day Course. See LTB177/17 ‘Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Training Courses (2-Day)’ for further information.
World Suicide Prevention Day
However, it’s not just for one day! World Suicide Prevention Day is the annual focal point and efforts need to continue all year round on the theme ‘Take a Minute, Change a Life and the resources and information available will allow Health and Safety Reps, Branches, Health and Safety Forums, Joint Health and Safety Committees etc., to organise and run their own local awareness raising initiatives.
The International Association of Suicide Prevention Website at: iasp.info/wspd
The Official World Suicide Prevention Day Facebook Event Page at: who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs398/en/
The SAMARITANS Website: samaritans.org/