Nick Barnes of The National Centre for Suicide Prevention Training speaks exclusively to This Can Happen

On 10th September millions are encouraged to channel their precious memories of loved ones to help tackle the heartbreaking and often preventable tragedy that is suicide. For those left behind, there are endless questions about what they could have done to intervene or whether they could have spotted signs before their friend or relative took their own life.

As the suicide rate amongst young people in the UK continues to rise it’s up to us a society to ensure that we never forget those we’ve lost – and we do everything in our power to help others on this dangerous path. The International Association for Suicide Prevention in partnership with the World Health Organisation has established this day of memory, learning and decisive action to raise awareness around the globe that suicide can be prevented. Encouraged by this global awareness day, over 300 activities have been organised in 70 countries, including commemorative events, educational projects and press briefings.

At This Can Happen, our own founders’ story has touched many, and has demonstrated clearly that taking a minute to reach out to someone in your community – a family member, friend, colleague or even a stranger – could change the course of another’s life. Nick Barnes, Chief Executive at The National Centre for Suicide Prevention Training UK CIC spoke to us about Team This Can Happen’s involvement in their cause. “Neil and Jonny met on Waterloo Bridge, 10 years ago, through the practice of what, we would call Suicide First Aid”, said Nick. “A caring conversation between two people, or brief intervention results in safety and hope, when one person is thinking of ending their life, and the other is the life-guard that provides life-support. Years later they met again, and an enduring and inspirational partnership was formed, that has changed the lives of countless people who have heard and been positively impacted by their work. “On 12th September you are honouring the practice that brought you together, and attending the UK's qualification programme in suicide prevention. "SFA Suicide First Aid features that story, and gives learners a deep understanding into what suicide is, what causes suicide thoughts, and how we prevent it. It will give a great objective insight into the events of the day they met, and provide total affirmation of the skills and practice that saves lives.”

On 26th September, Neil and Jonny will join a number of colleagues and friends to talk at the Burning Questions symposium and launch of SFA Suicide First Aid in London. One burning question is: How was it to take the process of your meeting apart, and experience the programme that not only features your story in the film you narrate, but captures the practice that brought you together? Jonny and Neil’s story has impacted many. Those like Jonny who have survived a suicide attempt have much to teach us about the importance of the words and actions of others. They highlight to their audiences that although people are often reluctant to intervene, and there’s no specific formula, all it takes is a few words. If you don’t know what to say simply show empathy, concern and compassion and you could prevent a tragedy. People commonly and understandably worry about making things worse by intervening. The responsibility is huge but evidence suggests that the offer of support is likely to reduce distress, not exacerbate it. The International Association for Suicide Prevention has issued a list of signs to look out for:

  • Hopelessness
  • Rage
  • Uncontrolled anger
  • Seeking revenge
  • Reckless behaviour
  • Engaging in risky activities
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Problems sleeping
  • Dramatic mood changes

They suggest ways we can help, including:

  • Listen, don’t judge, be compassionate and care
  • Check in with them regularly. Ask ‘are you OK?’
  • Take time to notice what’s going on with those you care about
  • If you’re worried about someone, seek professional help. There are many suicide prevention organisations

Their message to all of us is clear - Learn the signs, reach out and spread the word.  

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