We’re shining the spotlight on a very emotive topic in this week’s blog to mark the 10th September – World Suicide Prevention Day.
Whilst this can be a very difficult subject to talk about and brings about a huge range of emotions for those who have been affected, it is so important we come together to raise awareness of this very important issue as, tragically, it is a subject that affects many young people and their families.
On the 10th of September each year, people around the world come together to raise awareness of suicide prevention. This is done not only so that more people can gain a greater understanding of how to support those who are at risk but to create a safer space where individuals can open up and speak out, in the hope that fewer people die by suicide.
The Samaritans’ latest suicide statistics reveal that in 2018, in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, more than 6,800 people died by suicide. Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy. Many young people say they often feel lonely and report that it’s difficult to get the help and support they need. * Furthermore, Mental Health England reports that “attempted suicide is a major health problem amongst young people, their rates of attempting being much higher than the rest of the population. **
What is suicidal behaviour?
Mental Health England describes suicidal behaviour as existing ‘alongside a continuum from:
- thinking about ending one’s life (suicidal thoughts and ideation),
- to developing a plan,
- to non-fatal suicidal behaviour (suicide attempt),
- to ending one’s life (suicide).
It’s also important to mention that people who feel suicidal are ambivalent – part of them wants to die but part of them wants to live.”**
Thoughts of suicide could affect anyone at any time in their life. Some young people may be more vulnerable than others, for example those who have mental health struggles, are experiencing or have experienced abuse, young people in the care system, or individuals who have been left bereft themselves.
These young people may feel it is the only way to escape the problem or pain they are feeling in order to regain control over their lives. As Mental Health England states, “suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.”
Thoughts of suicide are common, with 1 in 4 young people experiencing thoughts of suicide at some point.
Signs someone may be at risk of suicide
It takes a lot of courage for someone to talk about feeling suicidal. Sometimes, as parents and loved ones of young people, we might be able to spot the signs early if we know the types of behaviours to watch out for. Whilst the behaviours below are not always directly linked to suicidal behaviour, it can provide early warning signs that something might not be quite right.
The changes can include:
- Becoming more anxious
- Becoming more irritable
- Mood swings
- Any extreme behavioural changes
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Avoiding people, including friends and family
- Struggling with studying
- Self-harming behaviour
- Reckless behaviour
- Giving possessions away
- Negative thoughts
- Low self-esteem
- Changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
- Having no motivation or interest in things like they used to
If you are concerned your child may be displaying suicidal behaviour, it can be helpful to take a look at the following misconceptions and consider the action you need to take next (further information on what to do next can be found at the end of this blog):
Misconception 1: Talking to someone about suicide could make them more likely to end their life.
This will not make their suicidal thoughts worse or make them more likely to harm themself. Having open and honest conversations about suicide will in fact help with suicide prevention. These conversations help create a safe, non-judgmental space to talk openly about their thoughts and feelings and is also a great place to offer support and help.
Misconception 2: If a person is thinking about ending their life, they can’t be helped or stopped.
While suicide and suicidal thoughts are serious, a lot can be done to prevent it with support.
Misconception 3: If someone is talking about their suicidal thoughts, they won’t act on them.
Talking about suicide can be a call for help. Don’t ever assume that someone wont attempt to take their own life if they talk about suicide. Always take suicidal thought and feelings seriously.
What happens in the brain when we are having suicidal thoughts?
The Intellectual and Primitive Mind
- When we operate from the intellectual mind (the Left Prefrontal Cortex) we generally are quite positive and come up with answers based on a proper assessment of the situation we find ourselves in.
- The Intellectual Mind will not have suicidal thoughts, as it would inhibit behaviours that are damaging. However, when we are feeling low, depressed or having suicidal thoughts we will generally spend far less time operating from the intellectual mind. The young person having suicidal thoughts will mostly be operating from the original primitive part of the brain (the Primitive Mind). When we are operating from this primitive part of the brain, we tend to be more negative and have a “worst case scenario” outlook on life.
Serotonin and the Stress Bucket
- A young person having suicidal thoughts will feel they lack control over their life, both psychically and emotionally. Their primitive mind will negatively forecast the future and repeat the same damaging thought patterns and behaviours that fuel suicidal behaviours.
- Their “Stress Bucket” will be full and their Serotonin levels low. In order to help them start to empty their Stress Bucket and regain more control over their thoughts and feelings, we need to build up the Serotonin in the brain. We know that having a constant flow of Serotonin helps us feel braver, happier and cope better in life.
So how do we build serotonin in the brain? We can do this by engaging in what we call the 3P’s.
- Positive Interaction
- Positive Activity
- Positive Thinking
But remember these will be different for each person and what is positive for them in their world. As Youth Fairies, we support young people to build these mentally healthy behaviours into their lives so that they can cope better with life’s challenges and enjoy more of life.
How can you help?
If you are worried your child may be having thoughts of suicide the only way to be sure is to ask them. Talking about suicide may feel difficult, but it is an important conversation.
Talking openly and in a safe space can break the stigma around suicide, and remember to ask directly – use the word suicide. Most importantly, stay calm! The questions you ask your young person should be direct, for example: “are you thinking about suicide?” or, “are you having thoughts about ending your life?”
It is better to address the issue rather than avoiding it with potential misunderstanding.
- Empathise with them. You could say something like, “I can’t imagine how horrible this is for you, help me understand”, which sends the message that not only are their feelings valid but that you are there to listen. Even if you have had a similar experience, it is so important to refrain from comparing or offering advice – we can’t understand how someone else feels, we can only empathise.
- Be non-judgemental and avoid blame. Try to keep a neutral and non-judgemental point of view and opinion. This will encourage the person to speak openly and open up about their feelings. Never blame them for their thoughts, feelings or behaviour. Remember the person is not their behaviour.
- Use their own words (not yours). By repeating back to your young person what they have said, using their own words, shows that you are listening and can show you have understood what they are saying correctly. You could follow it up by using terms like, “have I got that right?” or “is that what you mean?”
- Explore if they have felt like this before. By exploring if they have felt this way before, you can lead the conversation round to how they coped last time and how their feelings changed. This can give the person hope that things will get better, and they can get through the way they are feeling at the moment.
- Reassure them that these feelings will pass, they’re not permanent and that their life can improve, it shows them there is light at the end of the tunnel.
- Ask them if they have a plan for ending their life. Asking if the person has a plan to end their life can help you understand if these are just thoughts or if there is a more serious risk of suicide – in which case you would need to take more urgent action. You could also ask what their plan is and if they have made any start on proceeding with it, for example storing up medication.
- Ensure someone stays with them if they are in crisis/immediate danger. If you feel a person is in immediate danger of acting on suicidal thoughts and ending their life, ensure someone stays with them. They may be in crisis and having someone with them can potentially avoid a life-threatening situation.
- Try to get medical/professional help for the person feeling suicidal. If your young person is not in immediate danger, contact their GP and arrange an emergency appointment. They may like you to go with them to the appointment to help them explain what is going on. The person may also wish to seek help from a therapist, counsellor, or other support through a charity.
- Let them know that you care about them and that they are not alone. Tell the person how much they mean to you and how much you care about them. Make sure they know you are there for them and they do not have to face these feelings alone. You are there to support them through it and help them come out of this the other side.
In the case of emergency or crisis, please call the emergency services on 999 or visit your nearest A&E.
If you need further help, support or information you may find the following websites helpful:
Samaritans are there, day or night, for anyone who is struggling to cope or needs someone to listen without judgement or pressure. The Samaritans give people ways to cope and the skills to be there for others. They encourage, promote and celebrate those moments of connection between people that can save lives:
Young Minds has a fantastic parent guide on what to do if you are concerned about your child:
PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide is the UK charity dedicated to the prevention of suicide and the promotion of positive mental health and emotional wellbeing for young people:
** Source: Youth Mental Health First Aid England