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The half hour course that could help save a life

Would you know what to say to someone who wanted to kill themselves?

It’s a situation we hope to never find ourselves in but is one that some of us, sadly, will encounter. How we react could help save someone’s life.

The Zero Suicide Alliance (ZSA) – a collaboration of NHS trusts, charities, business and individuals committed to suicide prevention – have produced an online training video that teaches the basics about what you should look out for, and how you should talk to someone you think may be considering taking their own life.

Go here to take the course.

The course is free and takes less than half an hour to complete, taking the user through three scenarios in which somebody helps another person they suspect could be experiencing suicidal thoughts – a colleague, a stranger and a family member.

ZSA’s message could not be clearer. They say that suicide is preventable and is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. In other words, the crisis that could lead to someone having those thoughts will not last forever.

The course doesn’t aim to turn anyone into an psychology expert or a qualified counsellor, just as completing a first aid course doesn’t make you a medical professional. But it does provide the basic skills people need to be able to spot when something is wrong, know what to say to someone who is experiencing crisis, and perhaps more importantly, what not to say. It also tells you how to signpost that person to organisations that can help.

 

The course busts some of the myths around suicide, and some of its lessons may surprise you. For example, we learn that using phrases like ‘you’re not going to do anything stupid now, are you?’ is one to avoid, as it makes the person going through crisis more likely to shut down and not seek help.

Similar, telling them to ‘think about what it would do to your family’ will exacerbate feelings of guilt they may already have and could damage the chances of them being helped. Instead of using this kind of coded language, the course explains how you should ask people directly whether they have thought about killing themselves, and whether they have a plan.

As the Police and Crime Commissioner lead for suicide prevention, I would encourage everyone to take a few moments to complete the course and learn skills I believe are as essential as knowing what to do if you come across someone who has broken their arm or is having a heart attack.

I’ve written before about how the statistics around suicide are chilling, and the picture is only likely to get worse.

 

The training course quotes World Health Organisation figures that 800,000 people died by suicide globally in 2016 – around 6,000 of them in the UK. It’s also the leading cause of death in men under 50, killing more than heart disease, cancer or road traffic accidents.

And, although these figures are worrying, they relate to a time before the pandemic forced us into our homes, potentially moving vulnerable people away from social contact and from those who may be able to help.

Although we still do not know the full cost of COVID-19 on our mental health, and may not do for many months or years, we do know that charities have been reporting a huge rise in problems such as anxiety and depression.

 

Once again, please take the time to look at this course and learn the basic skills – how to ‘see, say, and signpost’.

Check on people in your friendship groups, particularly men, if you're worried they're not OK. Listen to them - you might be surprised how people open up if they're asked.

Of course, if someone is at immediate risk of harm you should call 999, but you can also find advice about who to contact in the 'vulnerable people' and 'loneliness' sections of Dorset Police's Ask NED page.

We need to remove the myths and stigma around suicide. It’s time to say ‘let’s talk’.

 

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