Helping those in the depths of despair
Faced with the stark realisation a friend, family member or colleague was suffering suicidal thoughts, how would you react?
However well-meaning, most people would admit to being out of their depth in such a situation.
Here in Blackpool however, for the past three years, hundreds of ordinary people have attended workshops to learn how to help someone who is considering taking their own life.
Now more residents are being urged to take up the training.
One woman has revealed how she used her suicide prevention training to save the life of a client who was about to take an overdose.
Janet, who works locally for the NHS, had been helping a resident with their debt problems, when she received a text message with five words that set alarm bells ringing.
When the client sent a text saying she needed somebody to ‘sort out her dog afterwards’, she knew exactly what that meant.
Janet, who is not revealing her full name in order to protect the identity of her client, immediately recognised their depressive feelings were dangerously out of control and raced round to the house.
When she was let in after banging on the door and shouting through the window, she found the woman crying and hysterical on the floor.
As she tried to calm her client, she was met with a sight that will be etched in her memory forever.
In the living room on a table was a suicide note and a concoction of drugs, however Janet’s quick actions meant they had not yet been taken.
As the scene played itself out, she remained calm and remembered her training, although inside her heart was racing.
Janet said: “I remember my brain thinking ‘oh no’ over and over again as I came to terms with what was happening.
“It was so shocking to see her in that state, when only a few days ago she was on top of her situation.
“We had a good relationship so I just proved to her that she had something to live for and explained how we could help her get on top of her problems.
“All the time I was just thinking ‘please let it be OK’ and hoping I’d got there quickly enough, but after I while I just told myself to get a grip and be professional.”
Over the next few hours she talked and supported the woman to help her to rationalise her feelings, regain control of her life again and leave her in a much better state of mind to tackle her problems.
The quick thinking that saved her life was a result of a specialised suicide intervention workshop called ASIST Janet had recently undertaken, which is available free to anybody who lives or works in Blackpool.
Janet added: “The ASIST training made me concentrate on each step and respond calmly and empathetically to everything she was saying. Because I knew the person as well as having recently done the training, I was able to notice the signs of suicidal thoughts and act quickly.”
The woman is now taking control of her money problems and rebuilding her life.
Janet continued: “I am still supporting her and she is doing well. I still think about that day and I’m grateful it happened because it had a good outcome and has made me more confident that if I ever am in that situation again then I know what to do.”
The two-day ASIST suicide prevention training course is funded by Blackpool Council to teach people to become more willing, ready and able to help people at risk of taking their own life.
Developed by LivingWorks in Canada, it is an interactive and practical course proven to help people learn how to identify risk and intervene to prevent the immediate risk of suicide using six easy-to-remember steps.
More than 600 people in Blackpool have undertaken the training in the last three years, including workers from A&E, paramedics, social workers, teachers, GPs, nurses and police officers.
Blackpool Council is encouraging more people to take on the ASIST training in order to prevent suicides across the town.
Dr Arif Rajpura, director of public health at Blackpool Council, said: “Depression is an illness that can affect absolutely anybody, no matter what your background is.
“Whether it is work stresses, personal problems or family feuds, the worst thing that people can do is bottle up their emotions to a level where it leads to suicidal thoughts.
“If you do have suicidal thoughts then make sure that you don’t keep them all to yourself.
“It’s okay to talk and there are so many people across Blackpool who can help you to get a handle on your problems and get your life back on track.
“Call a helpline, speak to a friend or see your doctor – just make sure you reach out to somebody.
“At the same time, you just never know whether it is your friend, patient or neighbour who is struggling and thinking about taking their own life.
“Our ASIST training can give you the basic skills needed to be able to spot somebody who is going through a tough time and help them to get their life back on track.
“In many cases just like this, the ASIST training has helped to save people’s lives and it is a vital tool in our work to prevent suicide.
“You never know when you might be called on to help somebody in need, so I’d encourage people to book on a course sooner rather than later.”
On average, more than 6,000 people die through suicide in the UK every year, with it being the biggest killer of men under 50.
Blackpool has one of the highest suicide rates in the UK - although that number has fallen in the last couple of years.
In Blackpool, the suicide rate is 16.6 per 100,000 population, compared to the national average of 10 per 100,000.
There were 17 suicides recorded in the resort in 2015, down from 22 the year before. In 2011/13, 74 per cent of deaths by suicide were male.
Blackpool Council has recently launched a Public Mental Health Action Plan for 2016-19 aimed at creating a supportive environment within the community.
Fylde and Wyre have suicide rates of 11.7 and 9.2 per 100,000 people respectively.
ASIST workshops can be booked throughout the year, although places are limited.
Email Nicki Da Costa at [email protected]
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts, should contact Samaritans on 116 123 immediately from any phone.
Free educational resources for families, professionals and volunteers around mental health can also be downloaded from www.minded.org.uk