Today is Suicide Awareness Day. Only it’s not really. That was last week, on the 10th September. A national day every year to raise awareness about the reality of suicide and the devastating impact it can have on our lives.
Last week, there was a swelling of support and activity across the nation. People from all walks of life brought this important issue to its highest profile of the year. The national and regional news covered stories from brave men and women who had either been taken to the very brink of ending their own life or had experienced the life of a loved one being taken away from them. The conversation rippled across social media, it was a milestone event for the mental health industry and it gave voice to an invisible killer that is prominent across our society.
That was last week.
I said nothing last week.
It is not because suicide is unimportant to me. Not at all. In fact, I have twice stepped back from the precipice myself and if those two days from my youth had turned out differently, I may not be here today to write this message. For years, I have added my voice to those who openly talk about how those dark thoughts of self-destruction have left a shadow over their lives. I do not talk about my experiences out of self-interest, I only do it in the hope that someone out there hears my message before they themselves are led down that dark path I once walked (and thankfully, returned from safely).
It is not because I believe talking about suicide is unimportant. My experiences in giving presentations and speeches across the country about this subject proves that talking is vital when dealing with this scourge on our society. After most of my talks, somebody (usually a man) has approached me to begin a conversation that they may not have started without listening to someone who felt capable of talking about suicide. The power of talking about suicide is evident; it is clearly life saving.
And it is certainly not because I did not want to discuss the subject on Suicide Awareness Day. Like many people who find life sometimes gets in the way, I can find it hard to prioritise important actions like this when balancing home, work and other factors. No, this year I just sat back and watched the new stories and the posts and the tweets continue to flood our channels of communication.
So why did I not join in?
Because raising awareness of suicide is not a job you only need to do once a year.
This is an important topic of discussion at any time of the year. Yes, it is great to have a day when you can issue a “call to arms” for the discussion. A focal point for governments, charities and public figures to stand up and raise their voices above the clammer of other worthwhile causes and campaigns. Every notable cause – from cancer to homelessness to domestic abuse and so many more – needs a moment in the spotlight which brings attention to its importance. Even in the mental health environment, there are other important dates like World Mental Health Day (October 10th) or World Bipolar Day (March 30th) and even Mental Health Awareness Week in May every year.
These high profile dates are important and should not only continue but need the right continuous levels of support from all of us to keep them going.
But is one day, one week, even one year going to be enough?
Suicide is the biggest killer of men of my age range in the UK. The studies and research out there today show that it affects women and children in tragic levels too. It can be something that still carries a lot of stigma even today, when it is so rife across the world. And now, with the whole world put under the additional pressure of a pandemic that is not only taking lives but constraining lives, it is even more important that we continue these conversations.
So, I am publishing this blog a week after Suicide Awareness Day. I hope anybody who missed the event last week sees this and it opens their eyes to the importance of the issue. And I do not intend to take any shine away from other important occasions today like Sourdough September or National Coding Week. At least I got it published before International Talk like a Pirate Day!
Seriously, I am fully aware that these awareness events and national campaigns all have an important role to play in promoting positive messages and driving real, cultural change in our society. There are many brilliant campaigns out there and maybe there is one close to your heart that you fully and passionately support every time it comes around. I genuinely do not wish to detract from the great work that many organisations and campaigners do to promote these worthwhile causes.
For me, though, suicide awareness – and ultimately, the challenge of suicide prevention – is one the most important causes you can support. These are difficult days for so many of us so why only promote awareness about suicide once? You do not have to wait twelve months for the next opportunity; every day is an opportunity.
So, what can you do about it?
You can start a conversation with a friend that might be struggling with their mental health; you can check in on a neighbour who may be feeling isolated under the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic; or you can just make someone aware that you are always there for them if they ever need to talk. You can support one of the many fantastic charities that provide support and guidance for people dealing with suicidal thoughts, such as SANE, Papyrus UK, CALM or The Samaritans. If you’ve experienced what it feels like to deal with these dark thoughts, you could even volunteer to share your own story if you feel able to (and there are wonderful people out there ready to help you find a way to share it safely and appropriately).
And talking is just the first step of many. We can do more collectively to help eradicate the issue of suicide in the future. Campaign for better funding for mental health support in our health service; challenge stigma and discrimination where you find it; educate our next generation of the importance in looking after your own wellbeing so that we build a resilient future for our children. There is a long path towards a world where anybody feeling suicidal has the support and guidance that they need at hand but your actions might be the first step on that path.
Whatever you do, whenever you do it, remember that you can make a difference to someone’s life. You may even save their life one day…