Suicide isn't easy to discuss, but talking about it saves lives

Lorna Fraser
·4-min read
Getty Images/iStockphoto
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Approximately 6,000 people die by suicide each year; it is a major public health issue.

One of the critical ways of preventing suicide is by helping people feel able to talk about their suicidal feelings. For many, this can be a first stepping-stone to recovery.

News coverage around recovery from suicidal feelings can serve as powerful testimonies to others, who may be struggling to cope, that it is possible to come through a suicidal crisis and can encourage people to seek help. Research has shown such stories have been directly linked to falls in suicide rates.

I joined Samaritans in 2012 to lead the charity’s work to support safe and informed media coverage of suicide and self-harm. At the charity, we think it is vital that people feel comfortable starting a conversation if they’re worried about someone else. We know that people can feel apprehensive about this – often not sure how to broach the subject – but it’s easier than you may think.

It’s not about having a polished script or becoming a counsellor overnight; there’s no right or wrong way to approach the subject. Nor is it about being able to resolve the problems others face, it’s simply about letting someone know you’ve spotted they may be going through a difficult time, and that you’re there if they want to talk. This acknowledgement and support can provide huge relief to someone who has been struggling alone.

We need to reach a point where mental health is a frequent topic of conversation at home, at work, in the pub or wherever an opportunity may present itself to reach out to each other and check how we’re doing. Talking is hugely beneficial. Sharing what we’re going through can help people to see different perspectives on things, which is particularly important for those who may have reached a point of feeling hopeless about their situation. Talking can help people to see a way through things and these conversations can serve as a lifeline to those who may be feeling unable to ask for help.

We need to reach a point where mental health is a frequent topic of conversation at home, at work, in the pub

In my eight years in the job I have worked with many people who have personal experience of suicide, including many families who have lost loved ones.

Topping the list in terms of inspiration for me in my work are both the highs and the lows experienced by those who have been bereaved by suicide.

It is incredibly encouraging to see how cathartic the experience of sharing a personal story can be for many, and the positive impact this can have on vulnerable audiences, when things have been handled appropriately. On the other hand, witnessing the impact of irresponsible public discussions is nothing less than heart-wrenching.

That’s why we work closely with journalists and programme makers to give evidence-based advice on sensitively tackling the issue. Those I have worked with have understood the sensitivities involved and have approached Samaritans for help with reducing any risk. Despite the complexities and challenges, they have been driven by their responsibility to educate the public about the issues surrounding suicide with the aim of reducing these deaths and the devastating impact on those who are left behind.

Now, we’ve launched our sixth Media Guidelines with new advice and resources on how to report suicide and self-harm safely, how to talk about celebrity suicides and how to portray these topics in documentaries and drama.

While this is a difficult topic, we can all play a significant role in increasing public understanding of suicide and supporting helpful discussion because ultimately, talking can save lives

You can find helpful tips on how to start a conversation or if you are worried about someone on Samaritans website

You can contact the Samaritans helpline by calling 116 123. The helpline is free and open 24 hours a day every day of the year.

You can also contact Samaritans by emailing jo@samaritans.org. The average response time is 24 hours.

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