Supporting Those Who Don’t Seek Help: Preventing Suicide
By NCVC Staff | Published on Oct 11, 2023
Four years ago, my older brother, Daniel, made a tragic decision and took his own life. It was a devastating loss that left me searching for answers. Over time, as I delved into the realm of mental health, I became increasingly convinced that Dan’s fate could have been avoided.
Last year, during the coroner’s inquest into the death of 18-year-old Edward Mallen, who battled with depression, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my brother. Edward’s general practitioner had referred him to a mental health specialist team after he expressed suicidal thoughts. Urgent attention within 24 hours was recommended. However, during a conversation with a triage mental health nurse, that timeframe was extended to five days.
The NHS Trust involved commented, acknowledging its shortcomings: “While we can’t definitively say that Edward would have survived even if the Trust had done everything in its power, we must accept responsibility because we didn’t do all that could have been done.”
It was a similar conclusion I reached after my brother’s inquest. He died on the grounds of a facility entrusted with his care. These tragedies bring a critical issue to light: the importance of early intervention in preventing suicide. In physical health, prompt action is recognized as crucial. For instance, in cancer care, efforts are made to expedite treatment upon diagnosis, knowing this increases the chances of recovery. We must apply the same principle to mental health, an idea that has driven Edward Mallen’s father, Steve, to take action.
Steve Mallen vowed at his son’s funeral that something positive would come out of the tragedy. He founded the MindEd Trust with a focus on preventing mental illness in young people and implementing early intervention strategies for those experiencing trauma.
Steve’s response, spurred by Edward’s untimely death, addresses the urgent need to prevent children and young adults from reaching a crisis point. It involves a healthcare system that recognizes distress signals and provides adequate and timely support. Achieving this requires sufficient funding, comprehensive training, and a genuine commitment to driving change, a commitment Steve has been tirelessly advocating for.
We know that suicide prevention works. A recent global review of suicide prevention strategies, published in the Lancet Psychiatry, confirmed the efficacy of evidence-based approaches. These include limiting access to means of suicide, implementing school-based awareness programs, and effectively treating depression. These strategies serve as crucial starting points. However, relying solely on these approaches will not result in a significant reduction in suicide rates.
The knowledge that prevention works poses an important question: how can we reach and support those who do not explicitly seek help?
The challenge before us is to address the root causes of distress, whether they stem from societal pressures or individual expectations. These pressures can manifest in various forms, such as concerns about academic performance, future success, conformity, and fitting in among young people and adults. In older individuals, financial struggles, debt, unemployment, addiction, and isolation can all contribute to distress.
We also need to foster a culture where it’s acceptable to admit not being okay and where individuals have access to safe spaces to be heard. We must look beyond surface appearances, beyond the veneer that might suggest all is well with someone who is secretly in pain. There exists a disconnect between our assumptions about who can experience mental health problems and the reality that anyone can.
While building mental resilience may be part of the solution, as a society, we also need to urgently identify and address these pressures. Finding answers won’t be easy; it will likely require comprehensive community approaches and a consideration of the broader impact of government policies on mental health. Together, we need to ask ourselves if we are willing to accept the ongoing cost of lives lost to suicide. If not, we must strengthen our collective efforts to bring about change and strive for zero suicides.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or feels unable to stay safe, please call emergency services at 999 or go to the nearest A&E department and request the contact information for the closest crisis resolution team. These teams consist of mental health professionals who specialize in helping individuals in severe distress. If you have been affected by the content discussed, please refer to our “get help” page for additional support.