Increase needed in courage of community

Last updated 09:02 02/07/2012

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Suicide: Time to talk

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Marion Williams, a counsellor for the Timaru and Fairlie Towards Growth and Positive Change programme, contributes to the Herald's Suicide: Time to Talk series.

Thank-you to Dr Ollie Burke for having the courage to open up conversation around suicide.

If there is going to be a conversation about suicide there also needs to be a conversation about difficult emotions, including a community understanding and acceptance of the normality of, in particular, grief and fear and ways of actively supporting people through these. When the intensity that emotional pain can reach is understood the fear of this pain can reduce and positive strategies can be found to manage through this pain.

Reduction of suicide needs an increase in individual and community courage; the courage to listen, to empathise, to believe in the person and to acknowledge their pain.

As a counsellor working to assist people to heal from past trauma (in particular physical, sexual and emotional) including suicidal thinking and attempts, I have found there is an awareness of the extreme complexity of suicidal ideation and actions, yet there are common threads that can offer safe solutions and hope.

The first is to be genuinely heard. Being listened to and having our reality heard is one of the most powerful healers of emotional pain along with being seen to reduce the fear of this pain. People, especially those working within health and welfare, must have the courage to listen. That includes parents.

The experiences as expressed to me by people who have survived both suicide attempts and thoughts of suicide, all involve intense, unrelenting emotional pain that they do not believe they have any other way to get rid of.

The over-riding fear is that they are "going mad". There is an overwhelming sense of "hopelessness, worthlessness and helplessness".

In almost all instances people have attempted to communicate this pain and fear to someone and have asked for help, either in words, or in behaviours. Studies in Britain have shown that 65 per cent of those who take their lives have met a healthcare professional within the previous four weeks.

Do not expect communication to be in the form of words. With up to 97 per cent of communication understood to be non verbal, understanding behaviours as forms of communication is another important element to lower suicide rates.

Conversation around suicide also needs to include the deep injuries caused by primary caregivers not positively connecting with children, along with the deep injuries caused by sexual abuse and violation, plus bullying and other abuse, especially to and around children. These injuries are not healed by time but by positive connections, listening, soothing and nurturing; by the provision of hope; by valuing the person; by reinforcing their worth and ability.

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If you truly want to help lower the suicide rate:

Connect with the person.

Gather your courage and listen from your heart. Genuinely listen beyond words.

Listen. Don't try to "fix" or "understand".

Eliminate statements such as "get tough", "don't be so emotional", "rough it out", "you'll be OK" and other shut downs.

Acknowledge and accept difficult emotions as a normal part of life.

Acknowledge behaviours as forms of communication.

That is a beginning.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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