Building self-esteem is key to suicide prevention says charity

Confidence and emotional resilience are key to both preventing, and coping in the aftermath of, suicide. Jenny Lee speaks to a worker with one Belfast charity who urges the bereaved, those in pain, and anyone concerned about someone they suspect to be contemplating suicide, to reach out

The number of suicides is continuing to increase, with more than 300 people in NOrthern Ireland having taken their own lives in 2015

DON'T be afraid to ask someone if they are feeling suicidal – this is the message from Roberta Coates, Community Suicide Liaison Officer with at Suicide Aftercare For Everyone (Safe), who is passionate about reducing suicides and improving people's resilience to life's challenges.

"You cannot put the idea of suicide in someone's head if it's not there. So I would always encourage a concerned relative or friend to ask the question of suicide, even though it may be very painful for them, as it can almost bring a sense of relief to the person who is in crisis and break down the stigma," she says.

Sadly the number of suicides is continuing to increase, with more than 300 people in Northern Ireland having taken their own lives in 2015.

"It would be lovely to have a situation where there would be no suicides. Meanwhile, the key is providing good suicide prevention projects and connecting up communities who will support people and the issues they are facing," Roberta says.

"I want people to have more confidence and capacity to problem solve and realise big life events will come and knock us. It's about building that emotional resilience to enable people to be able to bounce back and not go down the path to suicide."

Safe, now part of the Extern organisation, has been supporting those been bereaved through suicide in the Greater Shankill area since 2006. The organisation also provides structured support to those who are suicidal, delivers training on the issue of suicide/self-harm and promotes positive mental health and wellbeing across Belfast.

It was set up in response to the high incidence of suicide across north and west Belfast.

"At the time there were no support resources within the community and in the aftermath of a suicide most people just want to lock themselves away from the world for a while to begin to try and process what has happened to them," Roberta says.

Safe initially provide home visit support for the first six months before moving into more formalised counselling with access to complementary therapies in Hammer Community Centre.

"Support can range from practical help with funeral arrangements, funeral grant applications, the coroner service and PSNI protocol around the deceased's possessions, through to trying to help families process the emotions associated with the suicide," Roberta says.

After a year many of those bereaved move to a weekly peer-led support group.

"It's very empowering for a mother who has had a bereavement by suicide to sit beside another mother who has lost their child and for that person to know you will survive," says Roberta who believes that recovery is possible for those left behind.

"You never forget, but you can move on. We have a culture in Northern Ireland were we see recovery as back to the way you where. With suicide bereavement it's about learning to cope with your loss and to move on into a productive and relatively happy life again.

"The family members of the peer support group are a living example of the recovery process because they are all active in managing the group and very robust and active in suicide prevention in their community."

And how should others support someone who has been bereaved by suicide?

"Respect what has happened to them and don't judge. And if you believe they are struggling and they haven't accepted help, encourage them to take up help because there are fantastic services across Northern Ireland," advises Roberta.

Suicide is very complex and issues such as depression, mental illness, relationships, drugs, alcohol and substance misuse, the legacy of the Troubles, unemployment and financial concerns and lack of educational attainment can also contribute.

"Usually it's a series of events that leads to a person taking their own life. We know from people in suicidal crisis that people in this situation just want the pain to go away and unfortunately don't accept or know where to get the help to enable them to work through their problems and issues and end up dying by suicide," says Roberta.

"When people lose their confidence and sense of self-worth, and acquire the ability to self-harm, they start to think about suicide. Therefore we need to work through the whole life cycle to build resilience and coping skills. Giving our young people the skills to solve problems would go along way to preventing suicide. We are marking success and failure at an early age and we need to look at ways outside the academic system to build self esteem."

The signs to look for if you feel someone is vulnerable are:

:: a sudden change in behaviours or mood

:: becoming isolated from family, friends and social activities

:: increased alcohol or drug use

:: you sense they have lost hope in the future.

"If someone is struggling and you are concerned about them talk to them and encourage them to get help. Contact your GP, the out of hours service, or Extern or Lifeline helplines," adds Roberta.

:: If you require support for anyone in crisis you can contact the Extern crisis team on 0845 2590 520 (local rates). The team will respond to your crisis situation and support can be outreached to a number of locations across Belfast. You can also contact the Lifeline 24-hour helpline on 0808 808 8000.

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