I could never have imagined – nor would I ever have wanted to – how this post would end when I wrote the first draft a fortnight ago. It was 10 September and I had just learned the new-to-me fact that it was World Suicide Prevention Day. So I jotted down a few statistics and quick thoughts before time to blog ran out on me. And I saved the draft that follows:
WHO (World Health Organisation) estimates that a suicide takes place every 40 seconds somewhere in the world, meaning that more than 800,000 people die that way each year – more than all homicides and war deaths combined. So each and every day, the loss of a loved one to suicide affects more than 2000 sets of family and friends. In England, it equates to around 4500 people per year, or one every two hours, with as many as 20 additional attempted suicides for every suicidal death. For the last 12 years, 10 September has been marked out as World Suicide Prevention Day in an effort to try and reduce these tragic and unnecessary deaths. World Suicide Prevention Day was not one I was aware existed, but, learning of its existence caused me to pause, to reflect and to remember. My brother-in-law was one of the 800,000 in 2012, a few months shy of his 50th birthday, and the news came as an utter shock to all those of us who knew him, and to many others too, given the hundreds who turned out for his funeral. A global campaign linked to this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day calls for people to:
TAKE 5 TO SAVE LIVES Everyone is encouraged to get involved and become informed and share these five key steps:
- Learn the signs: take a few minutes to learn the warning signs of suicide
- Join the movement: use your status updates and tweets to help save lives
- Spread the word: make a commitment to tell five people about World Suicide Prevention Day
- Support a friend: if you know someone who is struggling, learn how to help
- Reach out: if you are concerned about your thoughts or feelings, talk to someone
Two weeks later . . .
It took me just a few minutes on the evening of World Suicide Prevention Day to draft the opening paragraphs of this post, during which time perhaps another half a dozen people had taken their own lives around the world. That short first draft was all I had time to write, so I saved it, planning to complete and publish the post the following day, adding to the overall theme of suicide, and perhaps incorporating something more personal about our family’s experience of it. But I never returned to finish the post as planned because, within 24 hours of finishing that first draft, I learned that the 14-year-old daughter of friends had taken her own life at about the same time that I was writing my post. Her RIP Facebook page soon had over 2000 likes – hundreds of people who cannot begin to understand how she came to do what she did, many of whom are now struggling to come to terms with all that has happened.
So, despite the title of this post, it is not now World Suicide Prevention Day, but it has become all too clear that it’s never too late to share a message about suicide and its prevention. The statistics around suicide can come as a shock, perhaps because it still remains something of a taboo subject even today. One of the most remarkable things I noticed when my brother-in-law lost his life to suicide was just how many people I’d already known well for many years had a death-by-suicide story among their own close family network. When it happens to you, people tell you about their experience, and something of the veil of hiddenness that cloaks this subject is lifted, albeit only briefly. As stories are shared, common themes begin to emerge: depression and other mental health issues, struggles with addiction, financial concerns, bullying, or issues around self-esteem and identity (particularly among younger victims of suicide). No two stories are alike; not all victims of suicide were depressed. But in every story I have heard there does seem to be one common factor: bereaved, shell-shocked, devastated relatives and close friends, people who had not seen this coming and are left trying desperately to come to terms with the horror of it and the seemingly endless guilt trips of ‘what-ifs’ and ‘if-onlys’. It is just impossible to even begin to try and understand what has led a much-loved friend or relative to the conclusion that the only way out of their inner pain is death. And, worse yet, they have not only thought about it, they have actually gone ahead and ended their lives.
If the tragedy that our family still lives with, and that our friends have just begun to live with, is to be prevented in other families and communities, then we need to begin talking about the reality of suicide so that we might all be better equipped to do what we can to prevent another similar tragedy elsewhere. As a novice blogger, I never expected to be writing about a theme like suicide so soon after getting the blog up and running. But real life has intervened, and so many of my thoughts have been about these tragic deaths that have touched our lives, that I can’t simply leave these thoughts to swirl around inside my head. It wasn’t possible in these two cases, but suicides can be prevented, hence my listing of the Take 5 to Save Lives advice above. If you have somehow found yourself reading this blog and you’ve had suicidal thoughts, or are concerned for someone else, then please take action now. In the UK you can contact the Samaritans on 08457 909090. Papyrus works for the prevention of young suicide 0800 068 4141 and SOBS on 0300 111 5065 offers support nationwide to Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide.