Suicide prevention week: Ask, Tell, Save a Life

Many different themes run through this blog through the course of a year, but by its nature it tends to be a corporate platform.

I’m setting my role to one side for a few moments to post something far more personal. I write as a workmate, a friend, a wife, a mother and a daughter rather than as Chief Executive.

Today marks the start of Suicide Prevention Week.  It’s a subject that isn’t spoken about openly very often and isn’t particularly well understood.

NHS Health Scotland and NHS Education Scotland have created the animation below to coincide with a week of action and awareness raising and I’d encourage everyone to take a few minutes out to watch it. It could help to save a life.

On Saturday, SAMH will be hosting a tree planting ceremony to remember those lost by suicide in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. This is an annual event, open to all, and this year is being held at Battle Hill in Huntly from 2pm. Where a tree is planted, a plaque is placed to try to encourage conversations to open up.

There is also a drive within the Council to increase awareness of Time For Talking, with promotional material being distributed within clusters at present. The free counselling service is available to all employees by phone 24/7 on 0800 9703980 or online at, with a live chat option using the password TfTnow. The roll-out of our Mental Health Action Plan also continues.

Because suicide isn’t discussed we tend not to acknowledge the scale. A World Health Organisation report published in recent years stated that at least 800,000 people die as the result of suicide every year. That averages one person every 40 seconds, the subject of the thought-provoking poem by Patrick Roche you can read at the foot of this post.

In Scotland the average is two people every day.

Much more than numbers and statistics, each individual lost to suicide is a family member, friend, colleague or neighbour in their own right.

Any death is a tragedy, with the loss of time that would have been spent together. When someone dies as the result of suicide it can be far more difficult to come to terms with

Every one of those people represented in the stark figures I have mentioned is different and has their own story, with so many complexities that make it incredibly difficult to find a common thread or a simple solution. But we have to try.

There is a lot being done locally and across Scotland, something I see at first-hand as a member of the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group, and it’s so important we build on that good work.

Removing the stigma and secrecy that so often shrouds conversations about suicide is a big part of that.

Continuing to show care for one another is even more important. We spend so much time with our colleagues, day in and day out, and sometimes, not always, we get a sense that something has changed. We may have an understanding of what others are experiencing and events that may be causing distress, often we have no idea.

Mental and physical wellbeing aren’t always visible, but both can have a profound impact on our lives and those around us – deserving of compassion and understanding. There’s no shame and should be no secrecy, as a society we have to get better at breaking down the barriers and opening up the conversations that might make a difference.

What I really want to say is it’s fine to ask ‘are you okay?’ and it’s fine to tell those around you and reach out for help if things aren’t right.

Every 40 seconds by Patrick Roche:

This is not a list poem

This is a eulogy for those swallowed by their own mind
This is a call to arms, a call to speak
This is not family gatherings when I mention mental health
And then told not to spoil the turkey
That it is uncouth
That it is better to stay silent
This is taking that silence and then breaking it with my hands
With my teeth and tongue
This is people with mental illness banging our heads against the walls
Not out of insanity
But to try to make some noise
To be heard
Too often we are ashamed
Too often we are in the shadows

Suicide is not always a banshee wailing against your eardrums

It is the child playing hide and seek behind your friend’s smile
They will not wear it openly
They will not hold its hand and introduce it to you
It is always invisible
Suicide is a lonely ghost desperate to give itself playmates
It is not a permanent solution to a temporary problem
These are so rarely temporary problems
It is aiming for a long night’s sleep
After years of insomnia
It is a seduction of safety and simplicity
Sometimes it is careful planning
Drafting the note
Inspecting the apartment for beams that can support your weight
Or it is a flip switch
Given the right trigger
Or no trigger at all
It is painting a target on the highway divider
It is imagining the phone call my mother will get in the middle of a nap
Sometimes it is sudden
It is not always arriving

The most convenient time of the clock keeps ticking
Every forty seconds
This is not a list poem
This is the tea kettle rising to a soprano screech
But you keep ignoring it to watch TV
It keeps whistling and crying
But you keep ignoring it
How much noise do I have to make
When we tell you that we are suicidal
It is a cry for help
But that’s not a sign of weakness
This is not a sign of weakness
This is saying that we’re fighting and we’ve been fighting with every weapon and fist we have
We’ve crashed against the cliffside
Broken and splintered
But we’re still fighting with whatever we can
I’m using my voice
That’s all I have left

Over the years I have written different versions of my suicide note

On the nights I almost took my life I always deleted or threw away the note
Rather than sending it or leaving it for someone
I assumed the words would just make them uncomfortable
If I’m going to die
Better to do it without all that fuss
Better to do it in silence
Hundreds and thousands of people are dying in silence
And because of silence
This is not a list poem
This is saying we can keep each other breathing
This is speaking louder than the stigma and hoping someone will listen