For this episode of Karger’s The Waiting Room Podcast, we spoke with Jade Corbridge from the Zero Suicide Alliance. She is a first class MSci Psychological Sciences graduate from the University of Liverpool. Jade has experience working in the Mental Health and Addiction sector, which is her primary area of interest. Currently she is a Research and Development Assistant for Zero Suicide Alliance, Mersey Care. For more information, go to the Zero Suicide Alliance website.
It seems that the word “suicide” alone is a taboo and should not be mentioned. Naturally, this makes it difficult or even impossible to initiate a conversation with someone who might be feeling suicidal. How do you best approach them? How can you help them? However, Jade is familiar with these questions, and luckily agreed to be our guest.
Note: The statements and opinions contained in this podcast are solely those of the speaker.
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Jade, you’ve been working for the Zero Suicide Alliance since 2021. Could you please tell us a bit about the Zero Suicide Alliance and about its mission and vision?
So, the Zero Suicide Alliance ultimately is an NHS charity hosted by Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust. Our aim is to break the stigma that surrounds suicide and to enable leaders to drive meaningful action and prevent suicide in the UK, and globally, too. More than 700,000 people worldwide die by suicide each year. And we really believe that everybody needs to come together to prevent these deaths.
So, the Zero Suicide Alliance provides free online suicide awareness training that teaches people how to identify, understand and help someone who may be feeling and may be experiencing suicidal thoughts. And we also develop interactive and evidence-based resources for people to understand the rates of suicide in their area. Our aim is to empower all people to take positive action against suicide, and we believe that we can learn from each other and share best practice for suicide prevention. We use data and research to drive real change. And ultimately, we support one basic principle, which is that suicide is preventable.
So suicide is preventable – I strongly believe in this. Could you tell us what are obvious or hidden signs that someone is ideating suicide?
Yeah, of course. When someone is ideating suicide, their words and actions can provide real signs to us that we can look out for. And so, someone may talk about, you know, wanting to take their life or wanting to die, which is obviously very important. They might talk about having great guilt or shame about themselves or even being a burden to others. They may feel very hopeless and helpless and may not feel like they have anyone to reach out to. But also, there are signs that may be less obvious, such as changes of their behavior.
A really important one would be if they’re making a plan or if they’ve started researching ways to die and withdrawing from friends and family, which could be becoming more distant or less engaging and isolating themselves a lot and wanting to be on their own a lot. And also, one sign is that if they engage in risky behaviors such as using alcohol or drugs, having concerning social media posts, so they may post online that they’re feeling lonely or they’re planning on ending their life. And another one is eating more or eating less and sleeping more or sleeping less. So, there are a lot of signs, and it’s really important to be able to recognize these so that you can help a person that’s in need.
But then what is the best way to react if you suspect someone close to you or to your friends and family is ideating suicide?
At the Zero Suicide Alliance, we really encourage people to have open and honest conversations with someone that may be feeling suicidal. And one of the main reasons that we have suicide in our name is because we want to break that stigma around suicide. And we really believe that it’s important to be direct and ask that question: “Are you thinking of suicide or are you feeling suicidal?” Because by asking these questions, you are giving that person the permission to tell you how they really feel. So, if you do suspect someone close to you is ideating suicide, we believe that you should follow three quite simple steps which are “see, say, and then signpost”.
So firstly, we have see, which is going back to the hidden and obvious signs. So, is their behavior any different? Are they talking about suicide? Are they acting in a different way? If they are, it’s important to say to them, you know: “Are you feeling suicidal?” Because talking about suicide, it doesn’t make it more likely to happen. And asking these questions can be very hard, but it shows that you’ve noticed things and have been listening to what they’re saying. And it also shows that they are not on their own, that you are there, and you care about them. That’s important. Also, ask whether they have a plan. So, if someone has already done something to hurt themselves or is planning to do so, this is important to know so you know what actions to take next.
And then lastly, it is signpost. It’s really important because when we have an accident or if our car breaks down, we know who to call and we have a number there in the list of directories. But often we don’t know who to call if someone that we care about is considering suicide or is having very poor mental health. It’s really important that if they are at immediate risk that you should take them to your nearest emergency department if they’re a risk to themselves or others.
But if they need urgent help but can be kept safe and not at immediate risk, then it’s really important to help them book an emergency appointment with a doctor and call a local urgent mental health helpline. An important one is to signpost to helpful charities. So, I know in the UK we have the Samaritans, which is a 24/7 helpline. There may be other charities out there and globally that can help you get support and I think lastly always make sure that you’re following up with them. Always check in with someone that may be feeling down or may be struggling because it’s important for them to know that you’re always wanting to help them.
I repeat it because this is very important: See, say, signpost. It is easy to remember, I think, and it kind of contradicts what I said at the beginning, that suicide, the word alone, seems to be a taboo. And you now tell us: “Yeah, but don’t follow this. Mention it. Put it out into the open and talk about it.” Talking about it seems to be a very important aspect.
Yeah, it really is. And if you do say to someone, you know, “Are you feeling suicidal?”, it may make them think about how they are actually feeling, and they may have the confidence then to be a bit more open about how they’re feeling and say “Yes, you know, I am feeling suicidal” and “Yes, I do need that support”. So, it’s really important to just have those conversations and tell that person that you’re willing to help them when they’re feeling like this.
That was really new for me, to be that open. So, I already learned something. Could you tell us more about the risk factors? What are risk factors that make people consider suicide?
The reasons why people may consider suicide or even taking their own life are very, very complex. It’s not normally just down to one thing. It’s down to a combination of things, and a lot of them are health and social factors. There are major risk factors or a list of major risk factors that someone contemplating suicide may have. So, one of these are having a previous suicide attempt or currently maybe showing self-harm behaviors. And if someone has a dependency on different substances such as alcohol or drugs. And one important one is financial issues, and especially currently with the cost-of-living crisis that we’re now facing, this has very large impacts on people’s mental health. Previous or current mental illnesses. One is if they are socially isolated.
So, loneliness has a really large impact on mental health. And if people think that they have no one that they can reach out to, this may lead to them internalizing their thoughts and that can lead to an increase of suicidal ideations. And also if someone has a chronic disease or disability. Chronic pain has a really huge, significant impact on depression, anxiety. This could be a catalyst for suicidal ideations. At the same time, risk factors can vary by different age groups, different cultures and many other characteristics. So, tatistically men are more likely to die by suicide.
Other risk factors are people that might be in the LGBTQ community, young adults and people from an ethnic minority background. And another one that I didn’t know that much before I did the research, but certain jobs or occupations may have a higher risk of suicide in the UK. So, in the UK, people within the construction industry tend to have higher suicide rates. More often than not, men within this industry have a very high risk of suicide. I think because it’s that taboo and stigma around opening up and talking to other people.
It’s a man’s world and you don’t talk about this?
Yeah, I think so, yeah. And there’s not a lot of support out there for men. And so, yeah, this industry, it’s got very high rates, which is concerning, but it’s good that research has highlighted this because it means that more can be done for men in this industry.
There are several individual risk factors, but the times we are living in are not easy ones, so this makes it even worse. So, I think in these times, the work of the Zero Suicide Alliance is more important than ever. Have you anything special planned for this year?
This year, we’re looking to focus our efforts on what’s really needed, which is developing new resources and finding new data that we can use within these resources and creating new training modules. So currently we’re working on developing a suicide awareness training module for prisoners. This can be used for prisoners within prison or afterwards when they are released into the community. And we are also in the process of developing a wellbeing tool. So, we’ve got a very busy and exciting year ahead of us.
That sounds good. That sounds really interesting, and I think we should follow this topic up once your new resources are ready. So, at the end of our interview, is there anything else you would like to add? Is there maybe an aspect of the topic that is especially close to your heart?
Yeah, I think one thing that’s really important to mention is, you know, always be kind. I think as a whole we have a real shared responsibility to prevent people taking their own lives. And I think especially now with everything going on, it’s important to look out for one another as you never know if a person is struggling. And again, I think it’s important to take our training because it will enable you to have that confidence to have a potentially life-saving conversation with someone that you might be worried about. So, I think one of the take-home messages that I’d suggest is, you know, keep talking, be kind. And remember that there’s always someone out there to talk to and that you’re never alone.
Thank you very much, Jade. You see, my take-home message is “Have open and honest conversations”. And I think that’s what we just had. So, thank you very much.