**Take note that this blog discusses suicide and therefore maybe triggering to some
Today (10 September 2020) is World Suicide Prevention Day. Not an easy topic to discuss and for some is a word that is hard to even say… but talking about suicide and how we prevent it is a must. Nearly 800,000 people die by suicide every year and most notably among young people suicide is the second leading cause of death globally. But what can we do to prevent such tragedies from occurring?
Naturally, the answer is a complex one and requires the consideration of many factors but one thing is for sure - that more needs to be done to destigmatise and deshame “not being okay” and importantly allowing people access to both timely and effective support.
"Modern life is fast paced, busy and never satisfied and it can be easy to neglect taking care of ourselves as we push on through. It can be easy to let our routines slip, spending less and less time with families/friends, using alcohol to block out difficult thoughts and ultimately finding ourselves in periods of utter hopelessness."
Small Everyday Activities
For me as a psychologist it’s important to have both immediate support for those in crisis but to also consider the small everyday actions that can help de-escalate distress and promote positive well-being. Modern life is fast paced, busy and never satisfied and it can be easy to neglect taking care of ourselves as we push on through. It can be easy to let our routines slip, spending less and less time with families/friends, using alcohol to block out difficult thoughts and ultimately finding ourselves in periods of utter hopelessness. Whilst undoubtedly there is a large space for therapy and professional support, I am also passionate about the following small, everyday actions that can help to prevent such spirals:
1) Exercise and Movement
It might seem like a strange place to start but there really is no mental health without physical health (and vice versa). It boosts endorphins, reduces inflammation, improves memory and helps with sleep. It can also be a great distraction to the endless cycles of negative thoughts that characterise depression and anxiety. You don’t need to spend hours in the gym either - try adding in regular walking breaks to your day and build up slowly.
Find more info here on mental health and exercise.
2) Watching the Diet
Again the old cliches ring true - what you put in you get out. Nutrient rich and healthy food helps to keep our bodies in good working order. We know low mood, anxiety or other difficult emotions can mean we reach for comfort foods but try to limit sugar, refined carbs and saturated fats - these can affect energy levels (making us feel worse if we are already low). Likewise, watch the booze and caffeine intake. It can be easy to turn to these to block out difficult emotions but ultimately they can make our mood much worse.
See here for a previous blog on tips to manage alcohol use.
Sleep is hugely important and often one of the areas that is affected when we are struggling with our mental health. Try to focus on getting into a routine and focusing on good sleep hygiene. The Sleep Foundation has some great in depth tips on how to get better sleep.
4) Connecting with others
There’s nothing like depression to pull us away from our friends, family and colleagues yet making time to regularly connect with those around us is vital - even if that is through a quick phone-call or video-call. Loneliness is a key risk factor for poor mental health so looking out for ways to connect is important. Try combining social activities with other interests such as book clubs or classes at the gym.
5) Me Time
Whilst it’s important to connect with others, it’s also important to find some me time. Life is busy and sometimes the things that bring us space and enjoyment get pushed down the priority list. Allow yourself time to relax and enjoy activities which are just for you. It’s not selfish to need time to ourselves. It allows us space to reflect, recharge and check-in with how we are feeling.
6) Help Others
When our moods are low it can be hard to focus on ourselves but sometimes focusing on helping others can be the shift we need. Think about helping a family member or a friend or it could even be volunteering. Sometimes just stepping out of ourselves and focusing on others can provide new perspectives.
7) Mindfulness/Breathing Exercises/Yoga/Pilates
Engaging with exercises such as mindfulness, abdominal breathing, or yoga/Pilates can be great ways of reducing stress, anxiety and tension. Making these activities part of your routine means that you can call on them when things become difficult (in essence they require practice to get the maximum benefit). Look out for helpful apps such as Headspace and Calm which can start you on your journey.
A good analogy to self care is to see it like brushing your teeth - done everyday without even thinking about it!
While the above points might seem simple, they are often the cornerstones of good mental health and worth investing our time and effort in. A good analogy is to see them like brushing your teeth - done everyday without even thinking about it!
Getting Support Now
Crucially, one of the most important points to hold in mind is to reach out when things are difficult. Despite undertaking self care there will be times when difficult events happen and we need the love and support of those around us to help us through. We might even need to speak to a counsellor or psychologist to help us manage. There is no shame in this. Life is complicated and often hard and it can difficult to always push through or to be truly honest with those around us about how we are feeling. Taking action early can help to prevent things from getting worse. Try talking to your GP as first step or looking at the Counselling Directory for qualified local counsellors and psychologists in your area.
SOS Immediate Support
If you are reading this blog and you feel suicidal it is important that you know that the voice in your mind that tells you that things won’t get better, that there’s no other escape from this pain and that those around you would be better off without you isn’t telling you the truth. You don’t have to deal with this alone and this will pass. There are other options and there are others that can help you through this.
Reach out to a friend or a loved one. They will want to help you. Shame feeds on secrecy and keeping things inside. Reach out. There’s no right or wrong way to start the conversation - just reaching out to someone is the most important thing.
Contact your GP or call NHS 111
Contact your mental health team if you have one
There are a number of helplines such as Samaritans that offer 24/7 trained staff on the end of a phone call (see the end of the page for more support options)
If your life is in danger or you have seriously harmed yourself - call 999 for an ambulance or go straight to A&E
If you are reading this blog and you are worried about someone else it can feel daunting starting the conversation. You might not know what to say or fear that by talking about it you might make the situation worse. There is no specific formula for starting this conversation. Empathy, compassion, and a desire to help is enough. Likewise, offering support and being there for someone is likely to decrease their distress rather than exacerbate it. Simple phrases such as “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately. Is there anything going on?” and “I’m worried about you. Are you ok?” can be enough to get the conversation going.
Samaritans: Samaritans offer a helpline 24/7 every day of the week with trained, compassionate volunteers. Call them free on 116 123
SHOUT: SHOUT provides free, confidential support, 24/7 via text. It’s the first free 24/7 texting service in the UK
CALM: Campaign Against Living Miserably or CALM offer a helpline between 5pm and Midnight daily (0800 58 58 58) for men experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Maytree: Maytree is a residential respite centre for people feeling suicidal and is currently offering email and telephone support between 8am and 8pm for those experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Papyrus: Papyrus run a helpline for those under the age of 35 and experiencing suicidal thoughts called HOPELine. Call on 0800 068 4141 or text 07860039967 (opening hours are 9am - 10pm weekdays, 2pm - 10pm on weekends/bank holidays)
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