Well, what a month September is becoming each year. The anniversary of my son Samuel's death by suicide is on the second. Little did I know, before suicide entered my life, that September is Suicide Prevention Month. Exactly a week after Samuel’s anniversary is World Suicide Prevention day.
For a whole month, you cannot avoid the topic. It’s in your face, on social media, podcasts, work emails, TV, radio. It’s like someone is dragging their fingernails down a metaphorical blackboard for 30 days.
Triggers are everywhere and everyone seems to have an opinion. I didn’t previously have strong views on the suicide agenda. Obviously, I was upset when I heard of incidents, but I didn’t feel adequately informed to have definite opinions.
Now, being on the other side, I am more aware of my own experience and from connections in the suicide loss community. However, I am still grappling with my views on the whole subject matter, it is so complex and multilayered.
I appreciate the value of dedicated time to raise awareness and start important conversations, but I am amazed those not touched by suicide can have such forthright views and profess to have the miracle antidote.
My social media feed is alive with glib comments. One post highlighted 100 reasons to stay alive – museums and bonfires, sitting on high ledges – oh the simplicity! I’m not sure a visit to the Science Museum was probably on Samuel’s agenda in his final days. He did enjoy sitting on high ledges though and sending me terrifying pictures, but that’s another story!
Much of the rhetoric focuses on 'just talking' as apparently, you won't take your life if you talk about it. If only that were true. Samuel spoke about little else at times. Suicide talk became part of his language and probably lost its shock factor. I lived with the fear for 4 years, it was a constant unwelcome companion.
The stories of people being on the brink, their now happy smiling faces and relief that they chose to stay. I scroll past these quickly; it assaults my senses. Probably pure envy that my son isn’t one of the lucky ones.
When Samuel was 14, during a professionals meeting, an educational psychologist drew his life timeline across a classroom wall. It was complex, and messy and raised more questions than it answered. Something she said stayed with me. “If there was an easy answer then someone would have found it by now”. It’s true in so many walks of life, suicide especially.
In my tragic loss, I've found and connected with remarkable people and encountered great work in this space. I’ve learned each suicide is uniquely different, as varied as the people, their circumstances and their support network. Some losses occur out of the blue, or discoveries emerge later, whilst others result from a chain of events or a worsening crisis.
I don’t know what the answer is. It’s more complex than a conversation, an Instagram post or what can be seen as toxic positivity.
For me, in relation to young people, it’s about investing early, well-informed parents, schools that focus beyond attendance and achievements, best practice projects, supporting the vulnerable, safety plans that go beyond hiding the sharp objects and ultimately fostering hope for the future.
I am starting to work in this space as an NHS Lived Experience partner so hope to bring influence. My experience is unique but in 4 years I encountered many challenges and services, some excellent and others not fit for purpose.
Managing your own mental health during this triggering month is vital. Here are some of my top tips:
Limit social media use, if possible, the first half of the month is usually particularly busy in the lead-up to WSPD
Stick to trusted sites and those who understand. For me, these might be Suicide and Co, Samaritans, Good Grief Trust, Calm, Good Mourning and familiar connections
Don’t think you have to have definitive opinions on the topic. I know I’m still grappling with my views and think they will continue to evolve
Scroll past those who offer platitudes, quick fixes or outrageous statements. Why should you value their opinion if these people have never walked in your shoes?
Use your voice as you feel comfortable. Posting photographs, candles and quotes that speak to you can be therapeutic
Closed Facebook groups can be supportive and provide psychological safety
Know suicide and suicide loss is complex, never a reflection of us nor our loved ones
Invest in your self-care and self-compassion. Make a supportive plan and stick to it
If you feel you would benefit from one-to-one coaching please get in contact at www.coachingafterloss.com