Preventing suicide is more about community than charity
There are plenty of charities and support groups aimed at suicide prevention, but do they offer the right help?
About 500 people die by suicide every year in Ireland. Those working on the coalface of the problem say it’s closer to 10 deaths a week – eight of which are men. Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, these people and others who have attempted suicide will be remembered.
In Ireland, we are no longer afraid to talk about suicide and there are now many charities supporting people through periods of extreme psychological distress who might otherwise have taken their own lives.
There is also more help for families and friends trying to understand and cope with the loss of a loved one through suicide.
But, do we really know what best helps people in acute emotional crisis? And do we have the psychological maturity to give people the support they need to prevent them from taking their own lives?
Caroline McGuigan is a psychotherapist with Suicide or Survive (SoS) and a former user of the psychiatric services.
She firmly believes that the keys to suicide prevention are within the community. “There isn’t one answer or one organisation. What works for you won’t work for me but if we invest in community, it can heal itself,” says McGuigan.
Struggles and vulnerabilities
She says that while we are talking more about suicide, we don’t talk about our own vulnerabilities and struggles.
“Part of life is struggle and we need to challenge the idea that if you feel low or anxious that you are a lesser person because of it and that it’s something to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.
“I’ve learned time and time again that listening is the key and asking questions like, have you experienced this before? What did you do to help you through then? Don’t decide you know what’s best for the person. Don’t judge them. A paternalistic approach doesn’t work.”
According to McGuigan, what’s really important is to hold hope.
“The stressful thoughts and emotions do pass. It’s also very important to use the word ‘we’ when talking about getting support and remind the person that he/she is a valued and capable human being.
“Even in distress, a person can tap into the resources that got him/her through so far.”
The standard advice for anyone who is suicidal is to seek help from their GP, at their nearest A&E department or to phone a helpline.
Joan Freeman from Pieta House, the suicide and self-harm crisis centres, points out that if someone in acute distress arrives at their GP or A&E department, he/she needs to be seen “quickly, compassionately and efficiently”.
“People can be waiting for hours among people who are physically ill and [when A&E departments are busy] many of those in acute emotional distress will leave the hospital without being seen,” she says.
She acknowledges, however, current HSE plans to put in place emergency care nurses who will fast-track individuals in acute emotional distress and/or with a history of self-harming.