In 2008, Jonny Benjamin, at age 20, stood on Waterloo Bridge about to jump to his death when a stranger, Mike, stopped to speak to him. Jonny clearly remembers Mike’s words – ‘It’ll get better mate. You’ll get better’, after which Mike asked him to step back from the bridge and invited him to go for a coffee and a chat. Passers-by who’d seen Jonny at the bridge called emergency services in the meantime and Jonny, on stepping away from the bridge, was taken to hospital. On that day 12 years ago, Jonny had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He felt he had no future and no chance of ever being happy. 12 years later, Jonny is a mental health campaigner, has founded his own mental health charity, launched ThinkWell, a mental health programme for schools in the UK, published 2 books and produced documentaries about mental health.
According to figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO), 800,000 people die by suicide per year. In addition, there are more than another 20 suicide attempts per completed suicide. Suicide is a topic with a great deal of shame and stigma attached to it, and one which is often misunderstood. As a therapist, I often feel quite disappointed when I hear people say – ‘He had everything. Why would be do that?’, or ‘Suicide is selfish’. Such statements minimise the intense pain and suffering experienced by people who attempt or die by suicide and reinforce the isolation and lack of understanding often experienced by those who feel their only option is to die.
People often contemplate suicide for a number of complex and interacting factors. A number of these are:
- Psychiatric disorders – schizophrenia, bipolar disorder etc
- Substance abuse
- Addiction – alcohol, drugs, gambling etc
- Chronic physical pain
- Family history of suicide
- Stressful life events – homelessness, abuse, job loss, loss of relationship, bullying
- Extreme sense of hopelessness and despair
- Not seeing the way out of a problem or situation
For anyone who may be experiencing any of the above and thinking of ending their life, I’d like to share some thoughts with you about this:
Suicide may seem the only option now. Time may prove otherwise.
Intense pain, both emotional and physical, can distort our thinking, making it hard to see other options and solutions. Without minimising the severity of what you’re experiencing, I’d like to reassure you that there are other options and there is a way out of your pain.
What may seem hopeless and insurmountable can be managed somehow
Mental health conditions, such as depression, schizophrenia, and so on, can be treated. Finding the right combination of support and a treatment plan which works for you takes time, however. This would involve changes in lifestyle (adequate sleep, exercise, nutrition), as well as the right combination of medication, psychotherapy and social support. With the help of professionals, such as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, this process will be smoother and provide you with the support you need until you find what works for you.
Suicidal crises are often temporary
As the popular phrase goes, ‘Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem’. I once had a client who’d just lost his job, was in the process of separation and dreaded not seeing his children daily. On one particularly grim evening he contemplated taking his own life. 2 months later he was offered an excellent job and, although the separation still took place, he managed to start a new life and have regular contact with his kids. There may be moments in life when it seems like everything is hopeless but solutions can be found, unexpected things happen and dark days do turn brighter.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, take these steps:
Wait it out
It’s important to create some distance between thoughts and action. Make a decision to wait 24 hours, or a week, and see how you feel after that. Chances are that the intensity to act will subside, giving you time to take alternative steps.
Remove anything which could pose a risk
Get rid of any knives, blades, medication or anything which could be used to harm yourself. If need be, ask to stay with someone so you won’t be alone.
Avoid drugs and alcohol
Non-prescription drugs and alcohol can distort your thinking and cause you to take actions you normally wouldn’t. If you can remove these from your home, you’ll avoid placing yourself at increased risk of harm.
Don’t keep your suicidal thoughts to yourself. Is there someone you trust, such as a friend or a family member? Call or message them and tell them you’re thinking of attempting suicide. If you don’t have anyone you trust, there are a number of emergency helplines you could contact – 179, kellimni.com. It’s also important you seek professional help. If you can’t afford private psychotherapy, a number of organisations provide affordable mental health support.
For anyone contemplating suicide, please remember that there is support out there. Trust that these feelings will pass and that whatever you’re going through can be overcome.