Working Towards Suicide Prevention: Taking Emotional Health into Consideration
08 July 2016
Dr Gill Green, CEO and Co-founder of STORM Skills Training CIC, recently delivered a short introductory workshop at Keyll Darree, Nobles Hospital, to raise awareness of suicide. The workshop, 'Working towards Suicide Prevention: Taking Emotional Health into Consideration', was an opportunity to start the conversation around suicide and self-harm and to make connections with emotional health. Gill said, "Looking after our emotional health is important if we are to deal with stress and distress before suicide becomes an option”.
Thanks to support from the Isle of Man Community Foundation and assistance from Manx Business Connection and the ManxBioMed Association, there was no charge to attend the workshop. Participants came from a variety of backgrounds and included teachers, youth workers, company HR staff, Samaritans volunteers and Government Ministers. Attendee Lon Pinkerton, Human Resources Officer at Manx Utilities said,
“Despite the sensitivity of the subject matter, this workshop was a positive experience and dovetails with key messages from other health and wellbeing initiatives. This can only be of help to employers and colleagues in identifying issues at an early stage and provide the help and support necessary to resolve matters without adverse outcomes.”
Suicide is a major health concern across the globe(1). On average, 1 person dies by suicide every 40 seconds with many more people having attempted to take their own life, and many, many more people experiencing suicidal thoughts. It is the second leading cause of death for young men between the ages of 15-29 years. In fact, men across the age range are now more likely to suicide than women by a ratio of approximately 3:1.
The impact of suicide is felt across the community affecting those known and unknown to the person (we need only recall the tragic loss of Robin Williams to understand how someone we only ‘knew of’ rather than ‘knew’ can affect us). It is greater if the person was known within a close community, such as a school or a workplace. For some, it may also effect academic or work performance.
Stress and Emotional Wellbeing
The link between suicide and Mental Illness is strong, particularly with depression and alcohol problems. However, suicidal thinking is not limited to mental illness, and acting on thoughts can be impulsive - perhaps even fuelled by alcohol. Relationship difficulties or breakdown, financial problems, chronic pain and illness can push us to our emotional limits, so much so that we want to end our life. For young people, that also includes bullying, exam stress, bereavement and abuse.
As emotional beings, our interactions with the world we live in and the people we share our life with will be ‘felt’ to some extent in varying degrees. Some of those interactions can be ‘stressful’ - a normal reaction to challenging and pressured situations. Ironically, stress helps us to get on with what needs to be done. But, too much stress is harmful, and when excessive causes distress. Both states have a detrimental effect on our physical and mental health as well as our emotional wellbeing.
(Di)stress can manifest during a challenging, perhaps prolonged situation or as a result of sudden loss. When strategies that help us to cope are pushed to the limit they become less effective, and can lead to suicidal thinking (“I wish I was dead”). Suicide, a coping strategy in itself, can find its way into our thinking. In essence, we all have the ‘capacity’ to think about suicide. Not everyone will find themselves wanting to take their own life, but it is an indication of how desperate we are feeling.
It makes sense then, to look after our emotional health, and to give it the same level of importance as we do for our physical health. And yet, it is not easy to talk about. Similarly to suicide and mental illness, emotional health is couched in stigma. We wouldn’t readily admit to feeling unable to cope, or that we are walking a fine line between just about functioning and being an emotional mess. It is not the done thing. You can’t be seen to be ‘not coping’… and so we just don’t talk about it.
The problem stems from our culture; a culture that drives and motivates us to succeed, to be a winner and to be the best. Anything less is weakness. How much we buy into this notion is our individual choice, but we can’t escape it entirely. l agree that valuing achievement helps us to grow and develop as individuals and as a society. It also creates the conditions for competition that influence market forces necessary for a buoyant economy… but there needs to be a balance between factors that drive us, and those that nurture and sustain our mental and emotional wellbeing - especially now more than at any other time in our recent history. We have seen our ability to achieve diminish as a result, in the main, of the economic downturn (e.g. fewer jobs, increased workload and less resource), but our perception of achievement has not. More to the point, we are stretching ourselves that much more.
Thankfully, we are recognising that ignoring this balance is counterproductive; not least in terms of the negative effects it is having on the economy. Poor mental health and emotional wellbeing is a major cause of absenteeism and presenteeism, and is costing businesses billions in potential revenue every year. In Europe alone, absenteeism accounts for between 3-6% of lost working time at a cost of 2.5% GDP(2). Presenteesim, the inability to perform duties effectively whilst in work, is a fairly new phenomenon with evidence suggesting an even greater loss of productivity and income. It is estimated that business in the UK lost £15.1 billion compared to £8.4 billion through absenteeism(3).
The figures reveal an endemic problem, which could so easily be resolved if only we ‘talked’ about how we are struggling to cope and are able to deal with the (di)stress before it disrupted our everyday lives. Finding a solution that helps us to ‘help ourselves’ in a ‘blame and stigma free’ culture with support and understanding will assist in tackling the economic and human cost of (di)stress.
Our Young People
This is not rocket science; it’s just plain old ‘common sense’. And yet we continue to create the same conditions for our young people that were set before us. Promoting the same messages: ‘work hard and you’ll be successful’; ‘you need to have broad shoulders’; and, ‘you need to have a stiff upper lip’. In an effort to prove how ‘strong’ and successful we are, we are rejecting perfectly normal emotional reactions to challenging situations. This delusion is killing us, and it is hurting our kids too. Self-harm is a coping strategy and its use is growing, especially in the young(4). Add to this the strong relationship between some self-harming behaviours and future suicide; we really must do something about it.
Joanna Steriopulos, Director of CPD, Queen Elizabeth II High School, was present at the recent workshop and said,
“The workshop provided an excellent opportunity to learn more about suicide prevention and discuss with colleagues how to promote emotional heath in schools. Gill was both informative and practical in terms of how young people can be helped.”
John Shimmin, MHK, Minister for Policy and Reform and Ralph Peake, MHK, Member of the Department of Health and Social Care were also present. John Shimmin said,
“I’m sure we’ll both take many lessons back into our Departments. We certainly look forward to welcoming Gill back again, as we continue to work closely with the Islands existing social care expertise.”
Dr Gill Green said,
“It was a pleasure to facilitate the workshop to such a dedicated group of professionals. All are passionate about making a difference in the work they do and in the community. This is where suicide prevention begins”.
The next Course, being held on 21st July, will be open to mental health, GP, and other medical professionals. Please contact Sally Carpenter: firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.
STORM Skills Training Community Interest Company
Dr Gill Green is co-founder of STORM Skills Training Community Interest Company. Gill and her team deliver suicide prevention, suicide postvention and self-harm mitigation training. The #HeyAreYouOK campaign aims to change the culture of how we deal with (di)stress. Workshops are available for the Workplace, Schools, Colleges and Higher Education Institutions.
(1) World Health Organisation www.who.int/mental_health/suicide-prevention/en
(2) Absence from work. European Foundation for the improvement of Living and Working Conditions. 2010. www.eurofound.europa.eu/observatories/eurwork/comparative-information/absence-from-work Accessed 27th May 2016
(3) Mental Health and the Workplace. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. 2012.
(4) Rodway, C., Tham, S.-G., Ibrahim, S., Turnbull, P., Windfuhr, K., Shaw, J., Kapur, N. and Appleby, L. (2016) ‘Suicide in children and young people in England: A consecutive case series’, The Lancet Psychiatry.
Find out more about Manx Business Connection at www.mbc.co.im
Find out more about the Isle of Man Community Foundation at www.iomcommunityfoundation.im