World Suicide Prevention Day

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“You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend.” James Taylor, 1971

As we approach World Suicide Day on 10th September, statistics indicate that within the LGBT community, people are more susceptible to suicide. This is due to some of our community finding the journey of accepting ones sexuality and the stigma attached to it too overwhelming. Also, some of us while coming out to family or friends still face rejection from those that we hope would love us unconditionally. This can be too painful to bare. Some of us have to keep our sexuality a secret to protect ourselves from possibly being rejected or receiving abuse from those we love. For some the weight of this secret can be too much.

When someone decides to commit suicide they often have turned the distress or anger with the hopelessness of their world inwards. They stop being able to hold onto hope or wanting to ask for support as they feel there is no other answer.

Due to the recent suicide of Robin Williams and a year on from losing a very good personal friend, John*, in a similar way; I feel it is important to talk about suicide as a wider subject in our own community. Most of all it is a very positive way of marking John’s loss. Over the last year I’ve thought about John a lot. Often when walking down a street in London I see the back of someone walking by and almost think to myself is that not John, maybe he is still here? Then I realise that he definitely is not. John is still very much alive when he appears in my dreams. I see his warm smile, I remember his very warm and kind heart or I am reminded of us enjoying the London scene and night life together. I still miss John a lot. He was a bright shining star and was very much present when I had to deal with my own life challenges.

When John committed suicide I was left with a sense of guilt and anger for not seeing or reading the signs well. I had a sense of sadness and disbelief that he reached a place of taking such a decision to end his life. That he felt that there was no other answer and this was the only way of ending the pain. The logical side of me remembers that John either had extremely high times when life felt really good and he could take on the world, or really dark times, I recall going shopping with another friend to get him some food for him and calling through his letter box encouraging him to get out of bed. Over the decade that we were friends we were always there for each other.

When life got quite dark for John, we lost touch; I knew life was not looking good, although I took a decision that I could not be witness to a time bomb that was slowly ticking. Like the child ‘cry wolf’ story; John threatened to commit suicide many times when feeling very low. It was the one time when John went very quiet that everyone thought he was OK. A decision that I will always regret, though in all honesty there was nothing I or anyone else could have done. This was his decision and I have to respect that he felt that there was no other way, no matter how painful I and other friends or family of John have found it to accept his loss.

After John’s death, his friends and family rallied round. I wished that if only John had known how much love and support there truly was for him. Since John’s suicide, I have found it really important to tell my family and close friends that I love and appreciate them. Also, in terms of ensuring and supporting friends that may be finding life difficult get the support they need, as nobody really knows how long they have in this world.

In my professional capacity since John’s suicide I’m far more vigilant in looking out for the signs of a client being in a dark low place. I am very used to working with suicidal thoughts or self-harm in my work. This did not make it any easier to deal with John’s loss in my personal life. In some ways a year on still working in this arena provides me with a sense of healing in terms of being there for someone else in distress when I could not be there for John. Most of all I never thought or assumed that someone I loved and cared about would not know how to ask for my help if they needed to, so now I am not so complacent.

So what can you or I do when someone mentions they feel suicidal?

Pick up the phone and let them know you are there.
Get specialist professional support if you feel immediate risk (i.e. have a concrete plan) go to your local A&E.
One of the best things you can do if you think someone may be feeling suicidal is to encourage them to talk about their feelings and to listen carefully to what they have to say.
Do not judge and ask plenty of open questions, this will allow them to feel heard and understood, something they may not have felt for a long time.
Helping someone with suicidal thoughts will have a big impact on you. Find out what emotional support is available to you.
If someone does try to kill themselves, know this is not your fault.

Most of all make sure the person knows they are not alone with these thoughts and they get the specialist support they need.

Fortunately, there are many specialist mental health and community services where you can go for support, please find useful organisations below.

Re-think mental illness: www.rethink.org.
Mind UK: www.mind.org.uk
Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90

*Some of the names in this article have been changed for confidentiality reasons

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About Author

Joel is a qualified counsellor and psycho-therapeutic supervisor working with both youth and adult clients. He has worked in the LGBT community for over 14 years working in the fields of health, social care and youth work. This has included working in HIV prevention and supporting adults and young people who are living with HIV. Since 1999, Joel has delivered training and workshops in the voluntary and statutory sectors around the themes of sexuality, homophobia and sexual health.

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