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Suicide – you can talk about it

9 October 2012

A close colleague at Forster, who had worked on the development of many of the mental health campaigns we have led over the last 16 years, had a very personal experience which affected her family profoundly and all of us at Forster. Her mum took her own life, and the way she and her family talked about what was such an unexpected and very tragic event had a profound impact on those around them. An innovative charity, The Judi Meadows Memorial Fund, has been established by the family to help save lives which are threatened by suicide.

My colleague and her family didn’t procrastinate about the decision to be open and talk about it– they just did it because speaking out about mental illness had always seemed to be the right thing to do. But on reflection, I think it was a very a brave and definite stance.

Suicide is a word laden with stigma and misunderstandings. And as a result, some people, possibly to protect their loved one’s memory, or because they can’t bear the judgment, avoid talking about suicide. Some people insinuate (or even blatantly state) that suicide is a coward’s way, or a selfish deed. My colleague and her family refused to take on those dated misconceptions about suicide.

Suicide, tragic as it is, happens. In fact, it happens to over 5,500 people in the UK each year. And we need to talk about this. How else can we possibly hope to help others who may be feeling suicidal if we don’t learn from the suicides that have happened before? Making society face up to suicide is an important step. And as an aside, it has also been shown that if someone has feelings of suicide, that, contrary to popular opinion, if you explore those emotions with that person, they are not more likely to go through with the act. In fact, the risk actually reduces.

The belief that it’s dangerous to talk about mental health issues, and particularly suicide is still widely held, in part due to the way the media treats these subjects. A recent review of studies has shown “certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals”. Welsh police also criticised “sensationalist reporting” for its role in the 17 suicides of young people in Bridgend over the course of 2007. However, mental health charities still suggest that considered media reporting can have a beneficial impact. Charities such as the Samaritans and Sane have produced guideline for the media to encourage them to be part of the solution, rather than being blamed, rightly or wrongly, as part of the problem.

For those still in doubt I urge you to watch this powerful short video about breaking the silence on suicide and depression. It’s a talk from a suicide survivor making the case for being open and exploding the taboos around suicide. Those with direct experience must find the courage to voice their experiences and those around them; family, friends and the wider society including the media must find a way to support this.

For help, support and advice on suicide contact the Samaritans 08457 90 90 90 or