By Olivia Kirtley
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) released the first ever World Suicide Report, showing that around 800,000 people die by suicide each year. In fact, around the world, one person will die by suicide every 40 seconds, which means in the time it’s taken me to write these few sentences, around 14 people have taken their own lives. Every mortality statistic in suicide research represents many personal tragedies. Sometimes I find the sheer scale of the task in front of us, as suicide researchers, overwhelming. But all around the world, people are doing something to try and reduce suicide.
The sad death of Robin Williams last month prompted an outpouring of tributes and stories of people’s favourite memories of him. One of the things I remember Robin Williams for the most, is his role as inspirational teacher Mr Keating in the Dead Poets Society. In one scene, he stands on his desk and asks his students why he is doing this. He says: “I stand on my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.” I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote recently and how if we’re going to reduce suicides, we need to look at suicide in a different way.
A different way of looking at suicide is something highlighted in several recent journal articles (Glenn & Nock, 2014; Klonsky & May, 2014; O’Connor & Nock, 2014): we need to become better at working out what’s different between people who think about suicide, without acting, and those who actually translate those thoughts into actions. This is one of the main aims of the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory (SBRL) here at the University of Glasgow. We do research using experimental and self-report methods to try and work out what some of these differences may be, because once we know, we can develop interventions to try and stop suicidal thoughts from becoming suicide attempts. But we know that one size does not fit all, so we also need to think about which risk factors are specific to the individual.
Researchers are not the only ones trying to look at suicide in a different way. New York photographer Dese’Rae L. Stage is working on a remarkable project called Live Through This, which pairs the stories of suicide survivors along with a photographic portrait of the person and for a topic such as suicide, this is completely groundbreaking. Suicide is too often the stigmatising preserve of hushed voices and side-ways glances and those who have attempted suicide face that stigma also. Live Through This is a quantum leap in the fight against stigma and shows that people who attempt to end their lives are regular people like you and me.
Why is this important? Because sometimes for a really big task, like trying to reduce suicides, research is not enough on its own. We need people to give faces and voices to those who have thought about and attempted suicide, to research potential causes and interventions for suicidal behaviour, to translate that research into policy change, to implement these changes into our healthcare and education services and to share their own stories and experiences of survivorship and bereavement. The theme for this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day is “Suicide Prevention: One World Connected”, so carpe diem! Do something today to help prevent suicide. We need all the help that we can get. We need everyone.
How do you think we can look at suicide in a different way? Do you feel like your research area requires a global “group effort”? IHAWKES would love to hear from you. Please leave comments below.