Ryan Jones, Co-Chair of our Mental Health First Aid Network, shares his thoughts about this year’s theme for World Suicide Prevention Day.
Thursday 10 September marks World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) – an international day of awareness, bringing together individuals and organisations so collective action can be taken to reduce suicide and support those bereaved or affected it.
I’ve always considered WSPD to be one of the most important days in the mental health awareness calendar because ultimately, suicide is one of the worst tragedies that can happen if a person’s mental health deteriorates. It’s definitely something that we can all act on to help prevent.
This year, however, is one that we really can’t ignore due to the extra pressure and stress that has been placed on our mental health over the last few months. I’d like to stress at this point that not everyone who dies by suicide is struggling with their mental health (it’s really a lot more complex that that) however we know that when someone is struggling emotionally this can lead to suicide ideation.
We won’t know the full impact of COVID-19 on mental health and wellbeing for years to come and whether this has caused an increase in the number of people who die by suicide. However, we know that before the pandemic, there were worrying trends emerging around those that were most at risk of suicide which makes the call for action event greater.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that in 2019, there were 5,691 suicides registered in England and Wales – the highest since 2000 with:
- men aged 45-49 remaining at the highest risk of suicide, accounting for three quarters of all register deaths compared to women
- an increase in suicide rates among young people, especially women under 25
- an increase in suicide rates among people aged 25 to 44
I think this year’s them of ‘connection’ couldn’t be more relevant because of our shared challenges during lockdown. We quickly learned that when we can’t connect effectively it can impact our wellbeing and the importance and value of our relationships in everyday life.
From a personal point of view, lockdown has made me realise how important my connections are. At first it was the realisation of the void left in the early days of the pandemic, but more recently just how grateful I am to be enriched by the people I do connect with – my work colleagues, parents and friends – people that I probably took for granted in the past.
As part of our response to the pandemic, the NHSBSA’s Mental Health First Aid Network has been hosting bi-weekly WeCare Cafes. These virtual sessions are an informal way of encouraging our colleagues to connect with each other, creating a safe space to replace the one taken away by the pandemic.
It’s obvious from the positive feedback and the number of attendees that our staff really value these sessions and the opportunity to share. I would definitely recommend attempting to connect with your colleagues at your own organisation in a similar way. There’s something really soothing about hearing you’re not alone and that your colleagues are experiencing similar challenges. There’s also the opportunity to learn from each other and find new ways to cope through this difficult time.
It helps a lot that our Chief Executive, Michael Brodie, is a big advocate of the importance of ‘connectedness’. Not just from an organisational perspective, but from a personal point of view.
Michael said: “Being connected to others and the world around us profoundly matters. We know that alongside having a job to do and somewhere to live, having someone to care about, friends, and relationships is a key driver of our health, including our mental health. I make a habit of ending all my blogs with the statement ‘stay safe, stay well, and stay connected’. Connectedness begets wellbeing and creates a sense of psychological safety. It’s critical.”
We often get hung up on the idea that connection is about spending time and talking to our friends and family. However, connecting with ourselves and our surroundings is just as important. Understanding your thoughts and feelings is a great tool for looking after your wellbeing.
So this WSPD, I’d really like to encourage you to take action by spending time connecting with others and also increasing your understanding of suicide by visiting the International Association for Suicide Prevention website to learn more about the awareness campaign.
You can also visit the National Suicide Prevention Alliance (NSPA) website, which provides a breadth of resources for several topics and messages, including guides, support and activities.