Why don’t we just… reach out to those at risk of suicide?

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Nicky Lidbetter

According to the World Health Organisation, over 800,000 people die by suicide across the world each year. In the UK, there has been a rise in the number of people taking their own lives in the last four years. There were 6,233 registered suicides in 2013. The male suicide rate is the highest since 2001 and suicide remains the leading cause of death for men between 20 and 34 in England and Wales, representing 24 per cent of all deaths in 2013.

The real figures are likely to be higher because of the stigma associated with suicide and lack of reliable death recording procedures. We may not be able to pinpoint the exact figure, but we do know that each individual suicide is a tragic loss of life and terrible loss to society. But suicides are not inevitable.

“Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives” is the theme of the 2015 World Suicide Prevention Day (iasp.info/wspd), an initiative of the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organisation. Since 2003, the day has taken place on 10 September each year. It serves as a call to action to individuals and organisations to prevent suicide.

How can we stem the worrying rise in rates of suicide? There is obviously an important role for services in this, both statutory and third-sector. As the leader of an organisation that is constantly working to ensure better access for people experiencing mental health difficulties, I know how important it is to provide a range of support that is readily available in the community, such as our 24-hour mental health crisis line or our overnight Sanctuary service, offering a place out of hours for people to come, talk, and stay safe.

But there are also many things that anyone can do. Just reaching out and talking to someone can make all the difference. Social isolation increases the risk of suicide. Having strong social connections can prevent it. Just being there for someone who you feel has become disconnected from those around them, a colleague, a neighbour or a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, can be life-saving.

We also need to be able to talk about suicide, especially when it has, tragically occurred. Suicide is devastating for the people left behind. They may experience a range of emotions, including grief, anger, guilt, disbelief and self-blame. They may not feel that they can share these overwhelming feelings with anyone else. So reaching out to someone who has been affected by suicide can itself be a way to help reduce further social isolation and relieve the kind of pressures that could lead to someone developing mental health problems themselves.

On 10 September, and beyond, please join us and others around the world who are working towards the common goal of preventing suicide.

Nicky Lidbetter is chief officer of the mental health charity Self Help Services selfhelpservices.org.uk

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