This week I spoke with Jack Thunder from Grassroots Suicide Prevention charity. A Brighton based charity providing national training to help communities, organisations and individuals become more ready to support someone at risk of suicide.
As many of us are aware, this industry can put a MASSIVE amount of pressure on performers and creatives; whether you're in a job, training, auditioning or maintaining your craft in between work, and it can be difficult to discuss when this pressure begins to weigh down on you, especially when wanting to maintain and protect your professional profile.
I am a big believer, as are Grassroots, that suicide really can be prevented and no one should have to go through it alone. But we understand that for many, this can still be a very difficult thing to just 'be open' about.
I wanted to ask Jack if there is a way that we, as an industry and society, could make suicide even more preventable.
Jack shares some tips on how to approach someone you are worried about and also some brilliant advice on how we can prevent this pressure from becoming too much.
If we have a friend or family member experiencing difficulties with their mental health and suspect they may be contemplating suicide; without pushing them away, what would you say is the best way to let them know that they are not alone?
"Good question, Paris - this is something we get asked a lot.
People often worry that they will say the wrong thing or something to make the situation worse. The truth is nothing you can say to someone will make it worse. You can help simply by telling them you care, you’re there for them, and you will listen to whatever they have to say. Listening can be so much more important than talking. Be gentle and maintain natural eye contact – you want them to know you are there to help whatever and however long it will take.
Here at Grassroots, we believe that honest and open conversation about mental health and suicide is needed. 1 in 5 people have suicidal thoughts at some time in their life – 1 in 4 will suffer mental health issues. When we talk, we often find that others have similar feelings and experiences.
We also believe that anyone can help save a life. One of our goals is to empower communities to talk openly about suicide and connect those who are struggling with the many professional support services out there. We do this through our suicide prevention training, free suicide prevention app – Stay Alive, and free e-learning resources. You do not need to know all the answers, others can help you with that. You just need to start the conversation.
Here are 5 things we can all do if we are worried about someone:
1. Be alert – Not everyone who thinks about suicide will tell someone, but there may be warning signs.
2. Be honest – Tell the person why you’re worried about them, and ask about suicide. Tell them you want to know how they really are, and that it’s OK to talk about suicide.
3. Listen – Just listening is one of the most helpful things you can do. Try not to judge or give advice.
4. Get them some help – It is OK if you don’t know how; the ideas on this page can get you started.
5. Take care of yourself – You may find it helpful to discuss your feelings with another friend, or a confidential service. If you spot signs and think someone might be feeling suicidal, you should talk about it openly and honestly. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Do not let fear hold you back from a potentially lifesaving conversation.
Start by asking them directly about suicide in a gentle and caring way which also explains why you are asking: “It sounds like you’re really struggling to cope right now. I care for you and want to help. It makes me wonder, are you thinking about suicide?” Asking directly shows you care and want to help. All signs of suicide should be taken seriously; it is always worth it. And if you get it wrong what is the worst that person can say? “No, sorry I am fine - just tired.” Simply by asking, you show that you care. This could mean they feel they can approach you in the future if they do need support.
This does not just apply to friends and family; it goes for the workplace too. We have trained hundreds of organisations to be safer from suicide through our training. We encourage participants to let others in their workplace know they are trained – some use a sticker or badge saying, “Suicide First Aid”. This shows they are there to listen and support.
The more people that learn suicide prevention skills the more lives are saved. We support people through our training, free suicide prevention app - Stay Alive, and free e-learning on our website, which we recommend to anyone."
I know it can be difficult speaking openly about suicide and I have noticed whenever I speak to people about it, it often feels like a conversation we shouldn’t speak so freely about. Do you think there is still a stigma to be broken when discussing suicide and do you believe it is necessary or important to change this? .
"Suicide can be difficult to talk about. People often talk about it in whispers, as something wrong, scary, or forbidden. Until 1961, it was a crime in the UK to kill yourself. This still influences the way some people think and talk about suicide now. So, it is essential that we continue to break down stigma so that more people have lifesaving conversations about suicide.
One way to do this is through our use of language. Certain phrases are stigmatising, which makes people less likely to open up about their feelings of suicide. But the good news is it is easy to fix. For example, instead of using the phrase “committed suicide”, say “took their own life” or “died by suicide”. Instead of saying someone “failed a suicide attempt”, say “survived a suicide attempt”. Little changes like these lead to more conversations about suicide, and more lives saved."
As I said before, the pressure inevitably induced from this industry can be immense. Do you have any advice on how to prevent this pressure from becoming overwhelming and in some cases unbearable?
"I see and feel this pressure all the time. It is important to be aware of it and, again, to talk about it. When I began this work, I felt I knew about self-care, “Yeah, I have a walk and a herbal tea now and again”. But it's more than that. We need to be aware of our triggers, what we can do to feel better, and what makes our mental health worse. We need to be able to say 'no' now and again. By putting our mental health first, life is essential – we experience it more fully with more joy and care and when we are living like that more good things have to come our way.
After a busy day if I am feeling overwhelmed, I know I have a friend I can talk to, someone I can debrief with. I do not push things down, out of my mind, because it will arise again. We need to be gentle with ourselves – like we would be with a friend - and in that we will process more easily. Saying that, I am sure I will read this again when I am spinning on the spot worrying about work, bills to pay, and trying to get my kids ready for school! We are not all perfect, but we can all try and practice effective self-care.
I hope some of this might help someone. I appreciate you sharing your struggles, Paris, and commend you for doing so. It makes a difference. If we all were to do this daily in our own small ways, what a difference we could all make! This is what it is all about.
- Paris Hoxton
Illustrations by @red_cheeky_drawings