How to overcome suicidal thoughts - notes from meeting in the Kilmore

These are my notes from Dr Stephen Critchlow's talk at the Kilmore Hotel.  I didn't get everything down but hopefully what is here is a help.  Dr Critchlow began with a disclaimer that would be good for me to repeat here:

This information is of a general nature, none of this information should be construed as giving particular advice on individual problems. Further helpful contact details are at the bottom of this post.

He began with a true story of Kevin Hines, he was diagnosed with bi-polar,  age 17, in 2000 nothing but immense emotional pain, felt a burden to his family.  He went to Golden Gate bridge and planned to jump off, he thought if anyone asks me if I'm ok, I won't jump, I'll tell them everything.

No one did.

He said "The millisecond my hand left the rail I realised I'd made the biggest mistake, I just couldn't cope with the emotional pain."

During the 7-8 seconds on way down, he prayed 'God save me'.  He was one of the 2% that survived.  He later recalls that when he hit the water, a sea lion nudged him to the surface until rescue boat arrived. He spent 2 weeks in intensive care and he now travels the world and seeks to help others who are feeling suicidal.

This story illustrates the intense feeling of pain that some people have, people who feel that suicide is the only way out.  It also teaches a very important lesson -  that if anyone asked if he was ok he wouldn't have jumped.  It means that people may well be willing to talk, most don't want to die, they just can't cope with the emotional pain. This highlights the importance of giving people space to talk, and taking the time to stop and ask people if they are ok.

Some Facts

  • In Britain, suicide is the biggest cause of death in the UK in under 45s.
  • Men are three times as likely to die by suicide as women. 
  • Alcohol often takes the brakes off, involved in between 1/3 and 1/2 of cases.

The person who has self-harmed

Of those who have attempted suicide but are still living he said it's helpful to ask:

  • Did they plan it or was it spontaneous?
  • What is their view of the future?
  • After recovery how do they feel?
  • Are the problems still there? 
  • What support do they have?

When the risk is high:

  • Well formed suicide plans
  • Hopelessness - especially if can only see a short future for themselves
  • Distressing psychotic experiences. Delusions of persecution
  • Feeling trapped
  • Chronic medical conditions
  • Feeling a lack of social support - no one to confide in. Recently bereaved.

Suicide prevention

Teams can help in vulnerable situations, a compassionate approach to suicide prevention - what can we do? (SOSAD have many resources - see below for their details)

  • With understanding and compassion enquire about suicidal thoughts, sensitively.
  • Understanding the risks and conducting a proper assessment (with help from people like SOSAD)
  • Compassion is commonly defined as a sensitivity to distress that is accompanied by a commitment to try to do something.
  • Supportive phone calls also effective.
  • Caring letters by post and email following treatment are helpful. 

What the person seeking to help can do?

  • Be aware that intense suicidal feelings are often short-lived.
  • Many people's real wish is to feel better, not to actually end their lives.
  • Help people to develop resilience and have a plan when things are difficult
  • Ask them how they coped with previous distressing and difficult situations
  • Help them to look forward by asking "when you look back on this testing period in your life what do you think the main thing that got you through it will have been.
  • Help them to understand reasons to live

Increasing resilience for the individual with suicidal thoughts

  • Friendships/group activities - rebuild relationships
  • Family - rebuild relationships
  • Pets/hobbies/sports
  • Music/exercise/distraction-reading
  • Being kind to yourself
  • Giving - e.g. Helping others
  • Keeping a list of people and things you love on paper or mobile phone.
  • Keep a list of those who care for you and you trust
  • Plan who you can tell if things are difficult - have their phone numbers to hand.
  • Thousands of people feel overwhelmed every day - but find ways to get through these intense feelings - like them you can get through.
  • You only have to get through one day at a time
  • Your distress can be a sign that you need to change something in your life.
  • Keep a plan of what to do in a crisis in a safe place.

Help from a Christian perspective

Dr Critchlow made reference to Professor Patricia Casey's research "The Psycho-Social Benefits of Religious Practice" - he asked the question why does Christianity help? He suggested that it gives resilience. He cited the example ofAdonirum Judson who went to Burma in 1813. On their way over his wife had a still birth on the boat and their next child died of tropical fever. In the years that followed he was incarcerated, his feet strung up to a pole, vermin running around the cell. Sometimes people taken and executed. Then he was marched for 100miles to another camp, as he went over a ravine Judson thought seriously about jumping. Later he was used as an interpreter, and was away from his wife and child for lengthily periods, during this time his wife and child died.  Instead of allowing himself to grieve he buried himself in work of translating Scripture. If we try and bury things, it doesn't usually work.  He then went out to the jungle and built a hut, isolated. Dug a grave and walked around it for days on end in a suicidal state. Could not feel God's presence anywhere. 

Fellow believers prayed for him. Gradually he came through, it was through their prayers and the continual reminder of God's love through Jesus that he came through.  You can download a free eBook on Adonirum Judson here.

Dr Critchlow also gave the example of 'Karen', a young girl from Ireland, life was desolate, tired of hiding behind a smile while inside there was gut-wrenching despair. Outside smiling, inside dying. Tried reiki, alcohol, all sorts, worn out. Thought of just walking quietly into the sea and not stopping.  She cried out to God and asked for help, she was on her way out to the sea. When text message came through, 'hey thinking about you, how are you?' She said she was in despair, the friend gave her the number of counsellor who helped her. She phoned the counsellor and over the coming weeks life changed. She said "deep down I didn't want to die, I just wanted the pain to stop.  God took away my pain. God has made me new."

Dr Critchlow also gave a personal example from his life, when God encouraged him through Matthew 7:25 storms came, house stood firm because it is built on the rock. Whatever he went through God was with him. 

Helpful Resources:

SOSAD - 049 4326339

  • 24hr service
  • Free one2one counselling
  • No waiting list.
  • Psychological assessment.
  • Help those who have lost loved ones through suicide
  • Help with addictions, gambling
  • Drop in service, monday - friday, 26 Bridge street

Samaritans Helpline 116123

Aware helpline: 1890 303 302

There is a short film called u-can-cope

The film promotes 3 main messages:

1. Anyone can experience suicidal thoughts.

2. There is always hope.

3. There is always help.