World Mental Health Day 2019: Suicide Prevention & How You Can Help.

Illustration by Alice Rose Bolton

Illustration by Alice Rose Bolton

By Bethany Wilshaw

Trigger warning: Suicide 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have noticed how the subject of mental health is gaining more traction in the media and is becoming a topic of conversation which more people are having, and rightly so. Today is World Mental Health Day 2019. A day in which people from across the globe unite to show their support and solidarity to the mental health awareness movement. This years prevalent theme is Suicide Prevention. According to the world health organisation, approximately 800,000 people each year loose their lives to suicide. If that doesn’t send a chill down your spine than this shocking fact will. 800,000 lives lost to suicide each year equates to one persons suicide every 40 seconds per day. It is clear that action needs to be taken, more conversations need to be had and the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness needs to be lifted. So, what are we doing about it? And what can you do about it too?

If this is the first time you’ve visited our website then you may not know a lot about who we are and what we are doing in regards to bettering mental health support. You can find out in depth about who we are [here] but to summarise, we are a mental health organisation who are in the process of building an app which we will be launching later this year. The app is powered by artificial intelligence and advanced algorithms that will track a users changes in behaviour using voice and facial recognition. The idea is intervention before you know you need it. Our company originated from a series of tragic events which heavily involved suicide, which is why we feel so strongly about bettering the support of mental health. If we can do that, then we can lower the number of lives lost to suicide per year, which is our main goal. 

Only recently have we seen more conversations surrounding the subject of mental health and more people striving for change in support. This has not always been the case, not too long ago and for many years, ill mental health was connected to supernatural evils and in some places and cultures today it still is. If we take a look back to just over a hundred years ago, innocent people were burned at the stake, locked in mental asylums and lobotomised.

In 1859 there were around thirty six thousand people classified as 'lunatics' living in England and Wales. The word 'lunatic' derives from the latin word 'lunaticus', which was associated with insanity, caused by the phases of the moon. Mental health was not well understood back then and many innocent people died because it was not properly researched. It is clear to see there has been a significant shift in attitudes over recent years, only last week ITV interrupted one of the UK’s most popular television shows, Britain’s Got Talent which on average boasts over 8 million viewers per night, to encourage people to break the silence surrounding mental health. Campaigns like this are vital as they open up the conversation to a mass audience from all over the UK, however, as a society we still have a long way to go reduce the numbers of poor mental health and high rates of suicide, which has recently become a global phenomenon. So let’s start from the beginning, what can YOU do to help?

When it comes to suicide prevention it is important to spot the signs. Prevention is the best method of intervention. So, what kinds of behaviours should you look out for?

  • Social Withdrawal

Has that person become less involved with people on a social level. Are they avoiding social activities that they would usually enjoy? Have they isolated themselves?

  • Changes in Personality or Appearance

Are they acting differently? Have they gone quiet, or have they been acting angry or out of character? Have they become less interested in their appearance? 

  • Dangerous and Self-harmful Behaviour

Are they acting recklessly? Overspending, drinking excessively, taking drugs or having unprotected sex?

  • Making Preparations

Have they started to set their finances in order? Have they made a will? Visited old friends and family members? Have they gone on a cleaning spree?

[NB: Each person’s experiences are unique. Not everybody will show these signs or symptoms. These are common symptoms and it is important to note that there isn’t one solution that will fix everybody.]

Sometimes when it comes to knowing what to do, you have to understand what not to do. When someone close to you is suffering with suicidal thoughts, one of the most common reactions is to tell that person how much they have to live for, how great they have it in certain ways or to look on the bright side of life. Whilst this sort of thing may seem like the right thing to say it could be really damaging to the person on the receiving end. Reminding someone who is feeling particularly low ‘how good they have it’ can bring about feelings of guilt and shame. It can leave them feeling guilty for feeling the way they do, which will ultimately make them feel worse than they did before you decided to intervene. A better way to offer the right support at this time would be to take that person seriously. Instead of dismissing their feelings make sure they know you are listening. Let that person talk and let them know that you will be their source of support throughout. 

If you think someone close to you is feeling suicidal, it is important to assess the level of risk to life. A person can range from low to moderate to high to severe on levels of suicidal thoughts. At the lowest end of the spectrum a person could be having some suicidal thoughts, yet has no plan or desire to harm themselves. However, if a person is on the severe end of the spectrum they will most likely have a suicide plan. At this stage it is vital to intervene. Call your local crisis service (here is a list of helpful numbers) and most importantly, DO NOT leave that person alone. It is also useful to remove any hazardous objects that a person could potentially use to cause harm to themselves.

As I mentioned previously it is important to be mindful that there isn’t one solution that will fix everybody, each person is unique and will react to different levels of support. Today is World Mental Health Day 2019. Why not ask the person next to you if they are okay? Smile at a random stranger and most importantly, let’s open up and let’s talk. In doing so we can abolish the stigma and shame surrounding ill mental health. And just remember, it’s okay not to be okay. Let’s stand together in solidarity. Together we are stronger.

For people seeking more help with regards to their mental health see our FAQs or click this ink to see our printable ‘Helpline Sheet’