It’s okay to ask people how they feel

Advice from the West Berkshire Suicide Prevention Action Group

It’s okay to ask people how they feel


THE profound and shocking event of a suicide of a close relative, spouse, friend or colleague is among the greatest emotional trauma that a human could suffer.

The effects of a suicide among us are long-lasting and leave many unanswered questions for those left behind or a severe emotional trauma for those that may have been unwittingly implicated as witnesses to such an event.

What could we have done? What did we miss? If only I had listened to them. If only they had told me how they were feeling.
These are the rational questions that may arise after the event.

If you are an employer, do you have a policy at work to support people who are coping with stress and anxiety? Is there a well-being element to work place appraisals or opportunities for staff to discuss workplace stresses?

Research shows that people are afraid of raising the subject of suicide with someone who may have said that they had thoughts of ‘ending it all’.

Rationality, along with a loss of perspective, usually departs those people who are thinking about taking their own life.
Research shows that people who want to take their own life don’t want to die. How odd that may sound.

But the research tells us that people actually want their circumstances to change and in their moment of irrationality they feel that the only way to change their life is to end it.

It is okay to talk to people about how they are feeling. It is okay to ask people if they are considering taking their own life.

These questions do not raise the idea of suicide in the mind of the person who is suffering, rather it raises an opportunity for them to talk about their current circumstances and why they may be having suicidal thoughts.

It is okay to ask if they are thinking about taking their own life and have they planned it.

A common reaction to this may be ‘good god no, I’m not that bad and I wouldn’t want to do that to my family’.

This is good because at least you will know that their life may not be in danger.

If their answer is yes, it may then prompt further questions about what their circumstances are, and what you – as a family member, friend, colleague or employer – may be able to do to alleviate some of the stresses in their life.

People’s struggles may be due to personal relationships, deep financial worries, workplace stress, poor mental health or a combination of all of these things.

We can all ask questions or make suggestions such as ‘have you thought of making an appointment with Citizens Advice West Berkshire who are trained to advise and guide people with a myriad of personal problems.

If their anxieties are around relationships, then organisations such as Relate are available and for younger people in West Berkshire we have an organisation called Time To Talk that specialises in listening to young people.

Samaritans in Newbury is an organisation whose very role it is to talk to people who are suffering and their 24/7 service is there for us all.

It is incumbent upon employers to take time to talk to staff, if for example they have displayed different behaviours from the norm. Asking them how things are at home may reveal areas of severe stress that an employer could take into account.

It may be that a partner has left the household with children. Perhaps the family home is about be repossessed due to catastrophic debt problems. 

Employers can help in a number of ways. Perhaps by discussing options with staff, perhaps guide them to expert services, maybe time off to help solve their problems. Overtime may help with money worries or perhaps an employer could fast track them to an in house counselling service and, of course, ensuring that their employee goes to see their family doctor who will be able to refer to expert services within the NHS, such as talking therapies and others. 

In May of 2017, local charity Volunteer Centre West Berkshire established the West Berkshire Suicide Prevention Action Group in partnership with the West Berkshire  Health and Wellbeing Board.  

The key aim was to act upon the recommendations made by Darrel Gale, a consultant and director of public health and the author of the Berkshire-wide suicide prevention strategy.

This new group, under the leadership of Garry Poulson, has brought together around 20 organisations with the key aim of bringing about practical solutions that might prevent suicide and to raise awareness of organisations within West Berkshire that are there to support people who may have been effected by a suicide.

For example, Racing Welfare, The Coroners Courts, the local Police, Time To Talk, Samaritans, SOBS (Survivors of bereavement due to suicide), West Berkshire Public Health Board, a retired GP, Newbury Weekly News editor Andy Murrill, West Berkshire Council Highways,  Newbury MP Richard Benyon, a member of the district council James Frederickson, public health officers, the Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust and The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust.

In October of 2017, the Suicide Prevention Action Group invited West Berkshire businesses to attend its first free suicide prevention training morning called Start The Conversation.

Experts from The Charlie Waller Memorial Foundation and The Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust delivered a session, giving employers very practical messages about how to spot the signs of stress and anxiety in the workplace which could, in some circumstances, lead someone to have suicidal thoughts. 

Those 50 employers represented 11,500 employees in West Berkshire.

It is the group's intention to deliver two more sessions in 2018. Te dates and venues for this free training will published in the next few weeks. 

If you are an employer or person responsible for staff, training or have an HR function and would like to attend one of forthcoming training mornings, then Mr Poulson would be pleased to hear from you. He can be contacted via email at garry@vcwb.org.uk 

If you, or someone you know, is seeking help and advice, here is a small selection of the resources that are available in West Berkshire. These organisations will be able to assist and or direct you to organisations who are able to help.

Talking Therapies: 0300 365 2000

Samaritans: Please use 116 123

Citizens Advice West Berkshire: 0300 222 5941

Relate in Newbury: (0118) 987 6161

SOBS (Survivors of bereavement by suicide): 0300 1115065

Time To Talk: (01635) 760331

Charlie Waller Memorial Trust: (01635) 869754

Racing Welfare in Lambourn: (01488) 670034

On Thursday, March 29, from 9.30am to 4.30pm, there will be an open day organised by Volunteer Centre West Berkshire, in partnership with the Health and Wellbeing Board, at Newbury Racecourse, promoting West Berkshire voluntary and community sector organisations and the work they do.  It is a free to enter event open to anyone wanting to meet charities, work with them, volunteer with them or use the services they provide.