There Are None So Blind as Those That Won’t See
As part of World Mental Health Day this year, the spotlight is on suicide prevention.
62% of boardrooms across the UK report mental health as their number one priority, yet only 45.9% have a dedicated strategy in place for managing employee mental health (Source: REBA Employee Wellbeing Research 2019). In 2018 Embridge Consulting introduced a health and mental wellbeing framework aimed at providing support for its staff, for both their physical and mental health. We have looked at how to spot and manage anxiety, depression, stress and a host of other mental health issues which may affect anyone of us at any point. But thinking back, we have not highlighted suicide. We are trying and endeavouring to put in place what we can to spot the warning signs and help support anyone long before it gets to that point. But is that enough? What if someone hides their feelings or doesn’t actively ask for help? What do we do to highlight and help prevent suicide? Embridge has in place a very good support framework which is going to be built on and expanded year on year, but looking specifically at suicide prevention, I think the answer lies not just in what the Company can put in place, but the behaviour within us all, as we contribute as individuals to our daily lives and the lives of those around us.
We can travel back hundreds of years to when those who had died from suicide were denied funeral rites or look at our modern approaches in society to suicide and see a pattern. No matter what historical or contemporary age we are in, suicide was and is a word only ever whispered, only ever hinted at. People did not talk about it and it was the elephant in the room of our societies and social interactions. It was there for all to see but you never mentioned it. We could say someone was depressed. We could say they were stressed. Or near the edge. But we would never earnestly and honestly say we thought they could be suicidal. We didn’t mention that word.
People who took their own life were seen as selfish. People who were thinking of taking their own life were “just being dramatic” – an overreaction to something that could be fixed. I am ashamed to say that I know people who still think that way about those who try to or who do take their own life. Whilst we are starting to talk about it now, I suppose that old habits are hard to shake off.
Suicide is as old as humans are themselves. It is not a new thing that we have invented or discovered. It is as ancient as the lineage of homo sapiens spanning the depth and breadth of our existence on this beautiful blue planet. So why, if it is so ancient, do we so vehemently shy away from talking about it?
Because it is the ultimate act. It is a part of us that we are never willing to look at or examine closely. The ability to take life.
Discussions around suicide are controversial. From the suicide of a teenager being ruthlessly bullied for not conforming to their peers’ idea of what they should look like to the person trapped inside their own body, unable to move or easily communicate asking for help to escape their prison, to the person who is deeply in debt but no matter what they do can’t seem to make any of the ends meet, any scenario where there is a real and veritable attempt to take life causes huge problems for us when we try to start talking about it.
So we do what we do best as humans. We turn a blind eye. We ignore what is hiding in plain sight. We refuse to see it. We refuse to acknowledge that people can become so entrapped in pain and be facing a never-ending struggle just to get through each day that they believe it to be their only option. So the rest of us do what we do best. We deny it exists.
We do not ask.
There are numerous statistics around suicide with deep analysis looking at the suicide figures and delving into the statistical likelihood of suicide based on working professions, the gender, the age, the weight, the education, even the genetic predispositions, but all the data in the world will not tell us anything new – all it will tell us is what we have chosen to ignore for so long. People of all types, heights, weights, professions, eye colour, hair colour, nail length, people all across the world commit suicide.
But what would have happened if we had not ignored it? What would have happened if we had seen someone who was “in a bad place” and just asked them?
Psychologists will say that if someone is intending to kill themselves then they are very adept at hiding it from others. That is why so many people say, “I didn’t know they felt that way”. If we are lucky, we can stop someone in time, but so often we are not able to, because they have reached the point where their mind is made up and they hid their plan. So what can we do? How do we reach the unreachable? How do we get to the point where it’s not too late?
There is no easy, simple, one-answer-fits-all to that question. But there is an easy step to trying to help long before it gets to that point. When was the last time you asked someone if they were ok and meant it? Did you ask your work colleague across the desk “You’re looking a bit rough today, mate? You ok?” and then happily got on with your work when they just nodded and said “Just didn’t sleep well. I’m fine.” Or did you take your colleague to one side when they were alone making a cup of tea and ask them in private, in a space and opportunity where they could talk about it. Did you as them in a space and situation where they could answer honestly, or just accept their “I’m fine” at face value?
Another person’s wellbeing is not necessarily solely our responsibility. We are all responsible for our own actions and behaviours. But we are also responsible for kindness. For compassion. For putting others before ourselves occasionally. In our very busy, very fast-paced lives, it can be hard to prioritise someone else above ourselves. We all have our own issues to deal with. But imagine if you knew there was someone you could talk to without judgement, without opinions, someone who would listen to you, really listen to you. Someone who showed you kindness not because they wanted other people to see them doing it, but because you’re worth just as much in this world as they are.
No matter the problem, knowing that you have someone you can talk to openly, honestly and without judgement is the first battle won in the war of personal troubles.
Now imagine that you could pass that on, do that for someone else? Imagine if you could make a huge, overwhelmingly positive difference to a person’s life. And you can. And it is as simple as asking them and, most importantly, listening to them.
You don’t have to be qualified in counselling or psychiatry. You don’t have to have a huge amount of time on your hands. You don’t even have to say anything. You just have to be there. You have to listen.
Imagine you are standing next to someone and you know they are thinking of taking their life. What would you say to them? How would you start?
Let’s not overcomplicate it. It’s simple. You would look them in the eye and say something as straightforward as “You can talk to me. I’m listening.”
It may not always make a difference, sometimes in life, there are no guarantees, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We can save lives. Not just by giving blood or being an organ donor, but just by saying to someone you know “You can tell me. I am listening.”
Together, one by one, as a group effort or just as an individual trying to help in their own small way, we can make sure that suicide is not longer hiding in plain sight. We can refuse to be the person who is blind simply because you won’t see. We can acknowledge it is happening. Acknowledge it is real. And acknowledge that the feelings and struggles in all of us, every single one of us, have the potential to do real harm if left unspoken, but also the potential to change the world, one conversation at a time.
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