'Don't ignore them': Calls for community intervention on Suicide Prevention Day
- Credit: Marjorie Wallace/ SANE
North London mental health charities have stressed the role communities can play in preventing people from taking their own lives.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2020 there were 5,224 suicides registered in England – though the true figure could be higher due to delays in death registrations because of the pandemic.
At the Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health event in May, experts urged people in need to access support.
The theme of this year's World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10) is "creating hope through action", something Islington mental health charity SANE thinks is particularly poignant.
Founder Marjorie Wallace, who lives in Highgate, said the day is "one of the most important in the mental health calendar".
She told the Ham&High: "In the 35 years since I've been running the charity, I've met several dozen people who have taken their own lives.
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"They didn't want to die, and they could have been saved, but people had turned their back on them.
"Most suicides aren't inevitable, and could have been prevented."
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She said that 60-70% of calls to the charity's helpline SANEline are about suicidal thoughts or plans, and the charity's previous research into suicide found most deaths are not impulsive reactions to sudden stress or shock.
Instead, Majorie said, people with mental health conditions "run out of energy".
"Usually it's an act of desperation," she explained.
"When they reach out, there's nothing to hold on to."
"They just can't go on with the day-to-day struggle. It's called 'suicidal exhaustion'."
She stressed that everyone has a role to play in preventing suicide, not just medical professionals or an individual's relatives.
"If you see a person who is clearly very distressed – maybe on a bus, or on the street – our instinctive reaction is to pass by quickly," she said.
"We fear speaking to them will push them over the edge.
"But research shows that people who are distracted from a negative spiral will not take their own lives.
"You will have broken the chain of their reaction. Don't ignore them."
She said people need the opportunity to be listened to and taken seriously, which may hep them to change their approach to dealing with the problems they are facing.
"It offers a little bit of light," she added.
However, the founder emphasised that mental health conditions are still deprioritised compared with physical health.
Marjorie said it is "unacceptable" that people seeking support from their GPs or A&E are sometimes turned away.
"People in acute mental health crises should be given the same type of response as someone having a heart attack," she said.
Psychiatric care was already under "extreme stress", Marjorie said, and Covid-19, perhaps unsurprisingly, has exacerbated the problem.
In response to the pandemic, mental health charity Jami quickly moved their services online, and began running Golders Green's Head Room Café and virtually throughout the pandemic.
Community development manager and peer support lead Daniel, who asked only for his first name to be published, explained this is particularly important for people who were already isolated and dealing with stress.
"Online spaces have actually allowed for more intimate, personal conversations to take place," he said.
On Suicide Prevention Day, the charity is continuing its efforts to "tackle the taboo" surrounding talking about taking one's own life.
Daniel said: "It's particularly difficult to discuss people's own experiences.
"It's a feeling of something not being bearable, and not seeing a way out of the pain."
He stressed the role communities can have in facilitating those conversations, which is what Head Room Café aims to do.
"We're taking mental health out of the institution and onto the high street," Daniel said.
"We're a Jewish charity, but open to everyone – people of all faiths and none."
Now, the cafe is expanding into a second shop on Golders Green road, and inviting the community to play a role in deciding what the new space should be used for.