“Anyone Can Learn The Skills To Help Save a Life From Suicide” by Anne Thorn

Anyone can learn the skills to help save a life from suicide.

Wednesday 10th October 2018 is World Mental Health day so I thought it would be a good day to tell you about my son,Toby.

Toby was a happy-go-lucky 23-year-old young man who walked into a field one night in July 2011 and took his own life. No one, not me or his close friends, had any clue that he was depressed, mentally ill or had any thoughts of self-harm. It came as a complete bolt-out-of-the -blue to us all.

Suicide is a controversial word and people find it very hard to say out loud or talk about. Professor Green the rapper, aka Stephen Manderson, lost his Dad to suicide and made a documentary about it. He said: “If you want to empty a room – talk about suicide.”

I was a single mum and as Toby grew into a young man I worried about many things; drugs, drinking and driving, getting mugged for his iPhone, but I never, ever, worried about him walking into a field one summer night and killing himself.

Because I never knew – I never knew that as a young man he was more likely to die from suicide than anything else. Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t anyone warn me? I now know that 84 men every week take their own lives in the UK. YES – 84 EVERY WEEK. A shocking statistic.

My first overwhelming emotion was anger – anger at the world, the government, the media, the medical profession; anger at whoever it was that should have told me. Then followed guilt that I had not been able to protect my son, that he hadn’t come to me for help and that I had not been able to save him.

I made it my mission to find out all I could about young male suicide, I connected with charities and organisations and learned that the main theory behind why so many men die from suicide is that they don’t talk about their worries – they keep it all inside and don’t reach out for help.

Telling people to ‘talk to someone’ when they are struggling is not really that helpful, but it is a step in the right direction. Toby probably would never have phoned a help-line or gone to the GP, I don’t think he even had registered with one, but he may have talked to his friends if they had known how to help him. And people can learn how to help, in fact anyone can learn the skills to help save a life from suicide.

I was trustee for PAPYRUS for a year, they are a UK charity dedicated to reducing young suicide and promote practical ways to help and educate people. As part of my role I attended a 2-day course called ASIST, which stands for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, it is like a First Aid course to help anyone who may be suicidal.

I firmly believe that one of the key ways we can all contribute to reducing suicide rates in the UK is to all become ‘suicide aware’ and learn how to talk about suicide to our families, colleagues, friends and children. If we start talking about it to each other and stop being afraid of the subject I believe a lot more people, especially young men, would speak to their friends about worries and thoughts of self-harm.

I recently started a new part-time job and one of the first courses I was sent on was ‘First Aid at Work’. I was taught how to put someone in the recovery position, do CPR and stop serious bleeding among other things. ASIST is a bit like that but instead of being taught how to do CPR you will learn how to talk to someone who may be suicidal.

It is a myth that you can implant the idea of suicide into someone’s mind by talking about it, but it has been proven that intervention works. ASIST is about becoming aware, looking out for signs, assessing the risk and then helping someone to stay safe until they can get help.

So here are the key things that I have learned along the way and from my training, about how to talk about suicide and how to create connections where it is safe to talk about mental health.

It is about connecting, understanding and assisting.

1. Check in with friends more often and preferably not on social media or by text.
How many of us have friends that we keep meaning to contact but just get distracted and too busy? Check in regularly with friends and if possible talk on the phone or meet for coffee, you can’t really connect with someone fully and assess how they are feeling just by text or social media. Sometimes just feeling cared for and supported can help distract someone from suicidal thoughts.
2. Look out for any signs that things are not OK.
Behaviour changes
Withdrawing from life or hobbies, missing work, lectures etc
Giving away possessions
Becoming excessively gloomy or alternatively they may seem excessively happy and excited
Has the person recently experienced a life changing event such as new job, losing a job, exam results, relationship break up, financial pressures, starting University etc.
3. Ask open questions.
Don’t just ask ‘how are you?’ ask ‘How’s the job going – are you enjoying it?’ or ‘What’s been happening recently?’ – this gives the person the invitation to open up to you – if you ask them how they are they will probably just say ‘fine’.
4. Ask them ‘Are you having thoughts of suicide?’
If you are concerned just ask directly and gently, don’t be scared to broach the subject if you are at all concerned.
5. Assess the risk.
If someone tells you they have had, or are having,suicidal thoughts – ask them if they have a specific plan or is it just a thought. You need to asses how urgently they need intervention help.

If someone indicates they have plan and are prepared, ask them if you can help them disable that plan, just for now. Ask them if they will agree to say safe until you can both find a way to help them access some resources. For example, if they have amassed pills to take you could ask them to give the pills to you.

Commit to help them find support and together you can access the internet, their GP, a help-line or a mental health charity to guide you on ways the person can find help and support. PAPYRUS run a help-line called HopelineUK on 0800 068 41 41 which anyone can call if they are worried about a young person.

Reassure them that it is OK and perfectly normal to feel as if you can’t cope or you can’t go on and that it is possible for them to feel better and tell them you are committed to helping them and being part of their support system.

There is a lot of useful information on the PAPYRUS websiteon what signs to look out for and how you can find help. If you are worried about someone do some research so you are prepared when you meet.

ASIST training is available to anyone over 16 and is available all over the UK and in some places you can do it free of charge. Look at Living Works website to find out more.

I can’t bring my son back, but I hope my story will promptothers to help each other and together we can create suicide safer communities and reduce the shocking statistics, so please share this post on World Mental Health day.

Read my blog at www.losingachildtosuicide.org.uk

Anne Thorne

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