Social Work

Safe Space, Middle Ground & Suicidality Tests.

A great deal of work has been going on behind the scenes of what appears to be a growing epidemic of suicidality. It is difficult to make all-encompassing statements amid the crisis because there are always exceptions to such a highly contextual matter.

In addressing the epidemic, a sway of approaches have been applied. For some professional intervention seems indicated. For others it seems being able to speak to others who have variously experienced suicidality is tremendously helpful and interventions that are aimed at assisting all within community to participate in bringing about change and support gain momentum.

For me as a social worker with lived experience of suicidality, it has become clear that there is no one approach, no simple answer or magical words to ensure people who do battle with the crisis will always defeat an adversary that refuses to play fair. One thing I have learned, however, that seems to hold some consesus, is that asking the question and saying the words: ‘are you thinking about taking your life by suicide’, will not directly lead to an event. The same might not be able to be said where we avoid asking the question though.

But we all know it is just not this simple, playing word games, as we battle the tragedy of suicide. Defeating the epidemic is obviously just not a simple effort, despite the fact some very effective models have been identified. The stigma and apparent naivity associated with suicidality still largely exists despite best effort. How one goes about talking to those affected or with those amid the battle is not always as straight forward as we might hope. Often we might erroneously feel tremendous inroads have been made, only to find out how wrong we were.

I have found that talking with a genuine ear, that shows warmth and empathy is a good start. The skill of listening with an active ear, providing genuine support and not judging the content disclosed, is very often a good start though, when we are confronted by what can very often be a very difficult conversation.

Many see suicide as an urge that builds and torments, whilst others see it as a more chronic event, where our psyche is at odds with an external reality. There is no right or wrong, good or bad, blame or shame in a general sense when we encounter someone affected by suicide. Very often placing a person behind lock and key is not the answer, whilst having a simple conversation may miss the mark. It seems the answer lays somewhere between the way we listen and the way we respond – obviously. Assessing the risk can be variously approached, we can look at triggers, history, plans and means but still a guarantee can remain elusive. I think asking what it is that might help does go someway near the middle ground though. Asking the person how they seem to arrive during the lead-up and how they battled the situation in the past also seems to address the middle ground.

Of course stating that we care and are willing to be an open-ear and to be a support may offer more meaningful assistance by comparison to avoidance or disenfranchisement though. For some, the answers might arrive via the trained ear and clinical judgement of a professional, whilst for others simple acceptance of something that hitherto has been very painful, difficult or stigmatising might even save a life. Hopefully some of the broader community based interventions might one day ultimately address the complexities often apparent in the situation, like how the provision of information about the harmful effects of smoking helped once we started talking to youngsters in schools and learning how to variously say no well before confronted, seems to have lead to dramatic modern day reduction in the uptake of smoking.

Maybe one day we will look back upon the present epidemic of suicidality in just such a way as we once did regarding smoking cessation. For now though, it might be wise not to rush to such a conclusion. Ask anyone and it seems few can honestly say they haven’t at some stage with varying frequency, intensity, duration and number – seen killing themselves as the answer to a very difficult life experience. A great deal of harm has been caused unto those who have sought formal help and also for those who have not. I guess by now the reader is starting to realise that the closer we get the further away we seem in the fight against suicide and also regarding support for their loved ones.

Of course suicidality is not a new phenomenon and almost seems to be there, lurking in the background all the while, as part of the human condition. Often love is not enough, yet simultaneously the lack thereof can act as the tipping-point. It seems that getting the balance right, finding common ground, just the right type of support and assisting people to reach-out when necessary is almost as close as we might be going to get for a time. Despite all this and the variousness of everybody’s role in the epidemic of suicidality, we must still maintain a role – whatever it might be – dependent on context, acceptance, willingness to support or not and knowing when to back-off, if we are to maintain vigilance and to find a way ahead that is supportive enough for those variously affected by the epidemic of suicidality, to find the right space, a safe space, their own space so we might begin to turn the tide on suicide.

But please don’t ever give up, don’t let meaninglessness and pain or fear to seek your right kind of help from ever stopping you from allowing suicidality to win. Sometimes amid the worst we can find the best – by leaving ourselves vulnerable, stumble upon resilience and in facing our test or our greatest fear, find the freedom that was there all the while. In doing so, what was once our worst might in future, upon reflection, become our best. Please – please – find the way to be your best. And don’t be afraid to ask others to help with the rest!

I know all too well the toll of this greatest test!