Shining a light on suicide: Breaking the silence over a tragic epidemic

Don't suffer in silence - talk to someone
Don't suffer in silence - talk to someone

My guess is there are very few people who have not been impacted by suicide, either within the family, friends, work colleagues or the wider community.”

Stark words from Wigan Council’s mental health chief, Coun Keith Cunliffe at the launch of a new campaign aimed at breaking the silence on a harrowing problem which is blighting our town.

More than 200 people in Greater Manchester die each year by suicide, including around 30 in Wigan.

It is the biggest killer in men under 49 and the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 29, with student suicides growing by 79 per cent between 2007 and 2015.

Those are the harsh facts that have led Wigan Council, NHS organisations and the Wigan Observer to back the Greater Manchester-wide campaign Shining A Light On Suicide. It aims to break the stigma of talking about suicide in a bid to prevent more people taking their own lives.

Coun Cunliffe, chairman of the borough’s Mental Health Programme Board, said: “About 20 per cent of people have had suicidal thoughts at one point in their lives. It’s highlighting facts about suicide and showing people there’s nothing to fear about talking to somebody about mental health.”

Coun Cunliffe knows only too well the impact that suicide can have, after spending 43 years working around the country as a mental health nurse. He said: “I was in mental health so I have known a few suicides during my career, but each suicide has a tremendous impact on the people they leave behind, the family, friends, colleagues, but also the professionals who have been involved.

“Over 20 years ago there was a girl who was in a unit where I was working. I had spoken to her in the day and when I was leaving at five o’clock, I said goodbye to her and said I would see her tomorrow.

"At half past seven, I got a phone call to say they had found her hanged in her room. As a professional you think ‘Is there something I missed, was there something I could have done differently?’ Even 20 years later there’s an impact.

“I had a family member who committed suicide last year. I know the impact it has on people and the trauma and how it affects people.”

Coun Cunliffe is backing Shining A Light On Suicide in the hope it will encourage more people to talk about how they feel and the issues they are facing.

The campaign has been created to prevent suicides and aims to take the subject out of the dark by encouraging everyone to talk openly.

Coun Cunliffe said: “We have seen a rise in Wigan, we have seen a rise across Greater Manchester, and there must be many reasons for that. There are many reasons why people commit suicide. It can be addiction problems, depression, anxiety, debt, gambling, alcohol, whatever. It can be relationship breakdowns,

“Actually for all those things, there is help out there and it’s just getting people to speak about it. Research has shown that even for people considering suicide, if someone spoke to them, even a stranger, it’s helped them. For every successful suicide, there are about 20 suicide attempts.”

Action is already being taken in Wigan to reduce the number of deaths by suicide.

To mark World Suicide Prevention Day next Tuesday, September 10, a yellow flag will be raised on Believe Square, in Wigan town centre, at 12.30pm, followed by a Hope Walk to Mesnes Park. During that week, council staff and members of the public will also take part in suicide prevention sessions.

Coun Cunliffe hopes as many people as possible will give their support to the Shining A Light On Suicide campaign.

One way to do that is by taking part in a 20-minute online training session called Save A Life, which gives people ideas on how to support someone considering suicide. He said: “If 1,000 people do that training and one person saves one person’s life, isn’t that worth it?”

While there are health professionals and voluntary organisations such as the Samaritans providing support for people in crisis, Coun Cunliffe also wants Wiganers to think about helping if they see someone who may be struggling.

He said: “If you are on a railway station and there is someone giving you concern because of their behaviour go and start a conversation with them. Just talking to somebody can really have an impact.”

To find out more, go to shiningalightonsuicide.org.uk.

If you’re struggling to cope, call Samaritans on 116 123.

For more information about Start Talking; Stop the Stigma visit their Facebook page.

CALM www.thecalmzone.net or ring 0800 585858.