***Trigger warning - this blog touches on suicide***
Here we are, in early September in the UK. It's a lovely day, with that gentle autumnal sunshine which is comfortable to be in. I'm having a nice cup of tea and thinking about the day ahead. And then I notice the date, and my train of thought takes a very different turn...
It's September 10th which is World Suicide Prevention Day, so there are lots of posts on social media about suicide, as well as support and prevention, and groups to contact if you or someone you care about is struggling. Although it's sad to see this, it's also encouraging that nowadays there is support and signposting for people who are feeling suicidal as well as those left behind when someone completes the act of suicide. (Sadly, those left behind are often left with poor mental health, depression and a higher risk of suicide themselves).
I'm going to say a little about my first experience of the impact of suicide, as a young child of 8. There is more to say another time, but for now I wanted to share this.
So, on another Saturday morning in September, many years ago, I was still cosy in bed, drinking tea (my Dad always brought us up a cup of tea and a biscuit in the morning) and reading a book. (Yes, I know exactly which book) Mum and Dad would be going to work a bit later, and my younger brother and I would go to my grandparents for the morning whilst they were at work.
The phone rang in the hall downstairs (we only had the one land line back in the day) and my mum answered. The next few sentences are still clear in my memory today - she was answering my Gran who had called , and without going into details, she was being told by my Gran that my dearly loved Granddad had ended his life.
I remember my brother and I were taken to my other Grandparents which was still local and a good place to go. I have some memories of that Grandmother having whispered conversations in the church (I think they were decorating it for the Harvest Festival).She was obviously telling the other people something about what had happened, but no-one was speaking to us about it.
Over the weeks and months ahead, no one really talked to us about what had happened and there wasn't the awareness or encouragement to talk about these things. There wasn't a school counsellor or Pastoral support worker for example. Being the oldest Grandchild by several years, I didn't have cousins to speak to about this either, and my brother was younger too. No one thought or considered that talking about this would be a helpful thing to do - that would have probably been considered the wrong thing to do, and my parents may well have been wary of upsetting us. I definitely didn't want to talk about it at the time - well not to anyone else. For sometime I would go to my Granddad's grave and 'talk' to him.
At that time, there was quite a bit of secrecy and shame about suicide and mental health too. It just wasn't something that was talked about or understood well, (Suicide wasn't even decriminalised until 1961 in England and Wales) Looking back, I am able to see how my reactions and responses to hearing about my Grandad's suicide impacted on a lot of things that happened afterwards - but more of that another time.
It wasn't until I began my counselling training many years later - now in my 40s - that I knew I had to face my long buried pain. It would be irresponsible and dangerous to have conversations with clients about a subject which I was unable to articulate at any level. I know that part of the reason I didn't train to be a counsellor sooner was because I knew I would have to talk about 'my stuff' as part of it, and I was far from comfortable about that.
Those conversations were painful, but ultimately helpful. Instead of freezing or recoiling I could talk about what happened, and unpick some of the threads of secrecy and shame. It's just as well I did really, because my very first client brought their experience of suicide to our first ever session.
Understandably, people don't like talking about suicide. If we think someone we care about is feeling suicidal, a lot of people worry that if they mention it, the person will then end their life. (Please don't worry that by asking any of those questions , you are going to 'encourage' or 'give someone the idea' about ending their life by suicide - you really won't). Likewise, if we know someone who has lost someone because of suicide, we are worried about upsetting them or re-traumatising them. Again, this isn't the case.
The theme of World Suicide Prevention Day this year is about Creating Hope through Action. I'll include some links and resources below, but the main message I hope I'm sharing is that it is ALWAYS better to talk about these things, no matter what age people are, or when the feelings or event happened.
Have a look through some of the info - it doesn't have to be anything big or dramatic - but just a gentle 'So, how are you doing?' and then really giving the person some time to reply can make a world of difference and enable you to be that light, that beacon of hope, to someone who might be in the darkest place.