Carl Wales is a health and safety manager at Wates Smartspace. Four years ago, Carl lost his 17-year-old son, Rowan, to suicide.
In this blog, released to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day, Carl discusses the importance of talking about suicide and how companies like Wates are supporting organisations such as the suicide prevention charity Papyrus, which aims to prevent suicide among young people.
Talking saves lives
Suicide is one of those subjects that people don’t talk about. Although we have come a long way with mental health, we are still uncomfortable when it comes to openly talking about suicide. So, my message is: let’s talk about suicide and not fear the word.
The experiences of those who have attempted suicide tell us, that in most cases, the primary objective is not to end life, but to end the pain that they are currently feeling. So simply talking and listening to someone at the right time could help a person to rationalise their feelings, bring clarity to their thoughts, and to see some, if only a little, hope in a moment when they are seeing life as hopeless. There is an old saying that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and as simple as it sounds, talking can save lives.
Those in need of support want to talk
From what we have learned directly from those brave people who are willing to talk about their experience and feelings of suicide, most people thinking about ending their life want to talk to someone about what they are thinking. What stops them talking about it is the stigma and shame that surrounds suicide.
The fact that, suicide was as an illegal act until 1961, and elements of law still refer to it as such, gives an indication of how it has been perceived. It is viewed as an ‘act’, without proper understanding.
Talking about suicide openly in a serious and sensitive manner will help break that stigma and allow those with thoughts of suicide the opportunity to talk about how they feel. For those thinking about suicide, it can be difficult and frightening to invite people in to help. Because of this, attempts to raise the issue may come across as a flippant comment, in the third person or said jokingly, in an attempt to gauge opinion before opening up. It is therefore important that any mention of suicide or any insinuation around ending life, is taken extremely seriously.
I have heard people say, "It's just a cry for help - attention seeking"
It is an invitation to talk, and often too subtle for others to take seriously. But for the individual they are putting themselves out there, jumping up and down, waving their arms in the air in the hope that someone will notice them. When nobody does notice, it can reinforce negative thinking; that they don’t matter, that nobody cares, that the world would be a better place without them. So please, take every comment, concern or hunch seriously. Your instinct is telling you something.
We all have our own frames of reference, built by our beliefs, experiences and influences throughout our lives. As we don’t often talk about suicide our opinions around suicide can remain quite restricted and personal. Talking about suicide helps us understand the different opinions and experiences, which in turn helps our understanding and normalises our language to be more considerate. And this helps to break down the stigma.
The power of language
When I came back to work after the loss of Rowan, I struggled with the insensitivity of language used around suicide. This language and ‘banter’ were nothing that I hadn’t heard previously. But now, a joke trivialising suicide or an individual’s pain, or an assumption made about someone that had died by suicide resulted in exposing their character, their integrity, and their values to criticism.
Being a parent bereaved by suicide and going through the grieving process, this language becomes a trigger for further extreme anxiety, sadness and even to thoughts and feelings of suicide. In my mind, I managed to rationalise that behaviour and associate my feelings to grief which helped me through at the time. But it did make me realise how language affects someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts and how they deal with that. The language we use is so important; suicide, depression, and poor mental health (indeed health as a whole) is not a joking matter.
Suicide safer communities
Suicide was never something that my family and I had ever thought about; why would we, there was no history in our family, we didn’t really know anyone that had died by suicide, there were no signs, and, as a family, we are all doing very well. “It won’t happen to us” we thought but it did. To us, Rowan’s death was this unforeseen life changing event that we couldn’t understand. I started to read about suicide to answer some questions, like what had we done wrong, what should we have done better, were we bad parents, and of course the biggie, WHY? Of course, there is no single clear answer.
After a little reading I thought, ‘what if I knew as much then about suicide as I do now, even that little bit more?’ I can’t say for certain it would have changed things, but maybe it might have. I can tell you that simple ‘maybe’, that opportunity, is priceless for a parent.
Then I thought of all the different communities that Rowan belonged to; what if his teachers, his judo coach, his rugby coach, friends, our wider family or our neighbours who he often talked to knew a little bit more about suicide prevention; this could have created a whole lot of opportunities to help save our son’s life. This is the principle behind ‘suicide safer communities’; we are all part of several different communities and if we talk openly and less secretively about suicide within these communities we may be able to offer the right environment for someone who is experiencing feelings of hopelessness to come forward and talk, and to find the essential help they need.
Wates and suicide prevention
My job at Wates is all about people’s health and safety. It’s something we take extremely seriously as a business, and everyone is committed to our goal of zero harm. While we rightly focus on people’s safety on sites and in offices, we also care about their health and wellbeing, and this includes mental health.
It’s why we now have a network of more than 250 mental health first aiders, who are there to give support to those who need it, completely in confidence and without judgement. It’s why we’re also working with organisations like the suicide prevention charity Papyrus, who can help us to look out for the signals that someone may be considering suicide and to help us tackle discussions about suicide with sensitivity.
In addition, we currently have five people who have attended ASIST training (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training with plans to train a further 18 people across the business in 2020/21Health, Safety and Wellbeing at Wates
My final message to everyone is to increase your awareness of suicide and get involved in being part of a suicide safer community in order help prevent the loss of a life. Don’t wait to get involved – like I did – because of the loss of a life.
- If you have been affected by the content of this blog, have concerns about yourself or someone else, please call the Papyrus HOPEline on 0800 068 41 41.