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Talking about suicide saves lives

Mandatory suicide intervention training would give nurses the confidence to speak up and ensure vulnerable people get the help they need
suicide

Mandatory suicide intervention training would give nurses the confidence to speak up and ensure vulnerable people get the help they need

In England, one person dies every 2 hours as a result of suicide. It is the leading cause of death for young people, both male and female, in the UK every year around 1,600 children and young people aged 10 to 34 take their own lives. Childline receives an average of one call every 30 minutes from British children with suicidal thoughts that works out at 19,481 in the past year alone. This is more than double the number 5 years ago. And yet, we still arent talking about it.

Part of the problem is that people are scared of having conversations about suicide. Friends and relatives of people at risk

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Mandatory suicide intervention training would give nurses the confidence to speak up and ensure vulnerable people get the help they need


University nursing programmes should include scenarios involving suicide. Picture: IStock

In England, one person dies every 2 hours as a result of suicide. It is the leading cause of death for young people, both male and female, in the UK – every year around 1,600 children and young people aged 10 to 34 take their own lives. Childline receives an average of one call every 30 minutes from British children with suicidal thoughts – that works out at 19,481 in the past year alone. This is more than double the number 5 years ago. And yet, we still aren’t talking about it.

Part of the problem is that people are scared of having conversations about suicide. Friends and relatives of people at risk may be afraid to intervene in case they say ‘the wrong thing’.

And it isn’t just relatives and friends who don’t know what to say. In my 25 years of NHS nursing experience I have seen nurses and medical staff remain silent when they are faced with suicidal patients.

It is not uncommon for nurses to be afraid they will say something wrong – and increase the risk of harm – if they discuss suicide, or talk about what triggered a patient’s suicidal thoughts.

Prevention training

This is where suicide intervention training could make a big difference to front line staff. It could be mandatory not just for nurses and doctors, but for teachers and school support staff, youth workers, police and clergy.

The skills learned on these types of courses include how to talk to someone about their feelings in a way that makes them feel listened to and understood – without judgement and without trying to problem-solve.

Suicide intervention training teaches staff not to be afraid of these types of conversations and helps to raise awareness of signs and symptoms of suicidal behaviour that might otherwise be missed.

Reducing stigma

University nursing programmes should include scenarios involving suicide, and include suicide assessment, conversation starters, evaluation and referral skills regardless of specialty.

By building a community of people who have developed skills through training, we are more likely to be able to identify someone at risk and intervene to keep them safe.

Knowing how to have these conversations is vitally important because there are significant difficulties for family members and friends in trying to recognise and respond to a suicidal crisis.

The signs of a suicidal crisis are often ambiguous and difficult to interpret. Rather than getting the help they need, people with suicidal thoughts and feelings often bottle them up and try to get on with things.

So although there are sources of help readily available, they are not always accessed or used.

When someone takes their own life, the effect on their family and friends is devastating. The negative associations with this type of death – known as suicide stigma – have been around for centuries and continue today.

Increasing awareness

As well as across-the-board training for healthcare professionals, there needs to be awareness-raising in schools. Children, at an early age, need to know there is help and support available to them if they need it.

We also need to lobby the media to be sensitive in their coverage of suicide and suicidal behaviour, because what is seen on our televisions and read about in newspapers or magazines can have a significant influence on young people. 

It is by encouraging the wider public to have these types of discussions and conversations that the stigma of suicide can be reduced.

Suicidal feelings do not have to end in suicide – talking openly about suicide saves lives.


Sarah Fitchett is a lecturer in neonatal care at the University of Salford. Following her son’s death by suicide she became involved with Papyrus, a charity and helpline for the prevention of young suicide 

More information:

Papyrus

HOPELineUK: 0800 068 41 41

A longer version of this article appeared on The Conversation  

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