Suicide is everyone’s business

There were 6, 122 registered suicides in the UK in 2014 (ONS, 2016).

Today is National Suicide Prevention Day. This got me thinking about my experiences of suicide attempts in placement and what I have learned, which I wanted to share with you.

I am a student children’s nurse… I know, suicide in children’s nursing?! Yes, children and young people take their own lives. Notice I didn’t say ‘commit suicide’? Well-spotted. This was intentional. Now, it’s not easy to break our language habits, but I’ve found that a good start in communicating with people who have attempted suicide (or any vulnerable person, or, well… people) is to think carefully about what I’m saying. The word ‘commit’ is commonly used in reference to criminal activity, which ties it to negativity, so I prefer not to use that word. I recognise I used the word ‘attempt’ above. Is this word associated with failure? I don’t know. I’m still learning.

During my time on placement, I have observed how well staff respond to these children and young people in a clinical sense, and how they are still learning how to provide emotional and psychological support.

My first experience was with a young person with diabetes who intentionally missed insulin doses and miscalculated insulin doses in an effort to end her life. The nurses were open about their discomfort in communicating with her. I respected their honesty and, from this point, made it my objective to build my knowledge of communicating compassion in these situations. I started by sitting and talking with her. More importantly, I listened.

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Fast forward a few months and I am with a girl who has taken an overdose on the ward. This was an emergency. The charge nurse raised his voice and forcefully asked what she had taken. She stayed silent. Another student and I took a different approach. She held her hand and I asked people to stand back.

We introduced ourselves, explained she wasn’t in trouble and that we cared about her.

Somehow, we got to a point where we were singing and dancing to Justin Bieber in her bay, with the curtains closed enough to give her some privacy and open enough for staff to monitor. We listened to her and gave her our time. She disclosed to us what she had taken and she was treated. She was referred to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service). She thanked us sincerely.

Following this incident, I asked staff which they felt was the best approach, given it was an emergency. Opinion was divided. What do you think?

I could write on and on about suicide prevention, but for now I have listed some of my top tips:

  • Refrain from judgement. If you can admit to yourself that you can be a little judgemental, that shows great level of self-awareness and highlights an area of self-development. For now, try to disguise your judgement. Think about how eye-rolling, tutting and slumping your shoulders whilst turning your back (yes, I have observed these in practice) could make somebody feel – Remember the first standard of the Code ‘treat people with kindness, respect and compassion’
  • Actively listen. Show you’re listening; make eye contact, nod with understanding…
  • Sometimes there are no ‘right’ words, but think about how your language could make someone feel.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. ‘Are you feeling suicidal?’ ‘Would you like to talk?’ ‘Is there anything I might be able to do to help?’…
  • Don’t make promises you cannot keep. If you feel someone is at risk, make it clear you will need to share information confidentially with appropriate colleagues/services.
  • Know who to refer to and what support is available. You are a student, so at this stage it would be your mentor you would raise concerns with, but learn trust safeguarding policies and national and local services. Here are some resources to get you started:

SamaritansMindStamp Out SuicideMaytree, Male-specific: The Calm Zone,

Young People: Papyrus, Children: Childline

  • Be open to learning ways to help vulnerable people who are considering suicide. One small action you make could save somebody’s life. Keep learning. Keep reflecting. As always, I recommend Twitter as a useful starting point:

#WSPD16 #WorldSuicidePreventionDay #ItsOkayToTalk #TalkThroughTheTaboo

Suicide is everyone’s business and you can make a difference.

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