One can only guess what was going through the mind of Caroline Flack during her final hours. Seeing the final post on her Instagram account posing happily with her dog is testimony to how difficult it can be to spot an impending suicide tragedy. Someone intent on suicide can mask his or her true feelings, often giving an impression of cheerfulness.
Caroline Flack’s arrest for common assault in December however, exposed stress in her relationship and a previously unpublished Instagram post published by her family on Wednesday clearly indicated she felt hopelessness about her future; a common warning sign of personal crisis. In her case, it was despair exacerbated by being a target of tabloids and internet trolls.
Caroline Flack’s celebrity is unquestioned, and as such, she has been an important influencer for many young people from her fashion picks to relationship choices, good and bad. The risk is that her death could be romanticised and may trigger a rash of suicide attempts as suicidal thinking can infect those who perceive a connection to her.
Suicide is never romantic even when celebrities do it
People often attempt suicide with serious misconceptions. Often they are influenced by sentimentalised images in films and assume that killing themselves will be easy. Suicide rates among teenagers saw a sharp increase following the release of the Netflix drama “13 Reasons Why”.
With limited life experience, teens can view suicide as a ‘cry for help’ and think that by taking “just the right amount of pills”, or cutting their wrists “just sufficiently” will be dramatic enough to make a statement without death; unfortunately, misjudging a method is a common way to die by accident. Similarly, people who are serious about ending their life often survive, with a botched attempt leaving them in a far worse position; whether that is being crippled or disfigured, or suffering organ failure through overdosing and requiring a lifetime of dialysis and rehabilitation.
Repercussions for others
Fear of suicide can and should be a deterrent. Andrew Solomon wrote in his book ‘The Noonday Demon’ “The reality of suicide is not fine and pure and philosophical, but messy and appalling and physical”.
The more people learn about suicide, its repercussions and consequences, as well as understand the huge amount of help available for their situation, the less suicide will be an option even in impulsive moments.
Talking openly about suicide and mental health issues overall will make people feel less isolated and less likely to try and “mend” their situation through taking their own life.
Who is most at risk?
In spite of Caroline Flack’s well-publicised death, statistics show that working age men, are three times more at risk for suicide than women. However, male or female, it is important to spot the signs of an approaching crisis.
15 danger signs of a mental health crisis:
- Addiction: Drug, alcohol, gambling and risky behaviours i.e. promiscuity, drink driving, reckless spending
- Inability to carry out daily tasks like cooking, washing and looking after yourself or others in your care
- Apathy towards personal hygiene; wearing the same clothes for days on end
- Erratic sleep patterns and insomnia along with moodiness and anxiety, e.g., depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Social withdrawal and avoidance of friends, family and events
- Feelings of unreality; hearing voices or seeing things, feeling paranoid and suspicious;
- Low self-esteem and self-loathing with a desire to self-harm or having suicidal thoughts
- Sudden out of character absenteeism from work or school
- Aggressive inclinations; tempted toward violence or abusive verbal assault
- Restlessness; difficulty sitting still or constant urge to pace the room
- History of previous suicide attempt
- A trigger event i.e. relationship break up; ill health; debt; legal or work worries
- Access to the means to kill oneself such as drugs, gun, or other lethal means
- Talking about hopelessness, ‘wanting to die’ or ‘commit suicide’
- Talking about being a burden to others
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to remember you are not alone. Reach out to a friend or family member or contact a GP or mental health professional immediately for support. (See end of article for emergency numbers).
5 steps to overcoming suicidal thoughts:
1. Remove yourself from danger
Suicidal thoughts can be triggered when a depressed person is in a potentially dangerous area or situation (waiting for a train, driving, standing on a bridge, or near weapons, pills etc.). It is vital to physically back away from the situation to minimise the temptation to act impulsively. Ask a friend or family member to keep medication or weapons out of harm’s way.
2. Focus on slowing your breathing
Slowing your breathing helps slow your heart rate, delivering more oxygen to your brain, simultaneously helping move attention away from harmful thoughts.
Moving the focus away from negative thoughts of self-harm include imagining yourself in a safe and calming space, being with someone you love, and, for religious people, saying a prayer for safety. (My courses include a range of proven mental and physical exercises to help you shift your focus away from stressful and anxious thoughts).
4. Share the problem
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reaching out to others is vital. You will be amazed how many people sincerely care, even strangers, and so let them know what’s going on by making a phone call to friend or a family member or speak to a support network helpline like the Samaritans. (See end of article for important information).
5. Remember recovery is around the corner
Suicidal people can get better and make a full recovery, usually looking back at the dark times and appreciating them as a valuable life-learning experience, being absolutely relieved they didn’t follow through with taking their own life, not least for their family’s and friends’ sakes.
Suicide Prevention Training – a proactive approach
An increasing component of my work as a trainer, coach and mediator is Suicide Prevention Training, helping parents, teachers as well as leaders and managers spot the danger signs of those at risk at home, at school and in the workplace, including the crucial changes in behaviour and personality mentioned above.
I also help front line staff who deal with vulnerable people in customer facing roles (housing associations, charities, public sector organisations) gain confidence and understanding how to seek help for people threatening suicide, giving them the tools they need to respond to an emergency situation.
Is your strategy in place?
It is vital for employers to have a strategy in place including policy development and employee training, providing the tools management need to immediately respond to traumatic news (accidents and sudden death as well as suicide), to facilitate both short term recovery and long-term help for staff to cope with the stress and reduce the impact of the event.
A pre-emptive approach in suicide prevention though desirable is not always possible and unfortunately is never infallible, as a determined individual will often slip through the most caring and vigilant net.
The psychological, emotional and practical consequence of suicide is devastating. Having a “Postvention” strategy is common for larger organisations, but SMEs rarely have the appropriate in-house resources and can be wholly unprepared to deal with tragedy.
For a boss or manager, suddenly finding themselves facing a staff suicide can put them at mental health risk themselves; dealing with issues like guilt or blame, not to mention the practical consequences of coping with traumatised colleagues, absenteeism and emergency recruitment for a new member of the team.
For more information and for a complete course outline please contact me.
Getting help in an emergency:
If you don’t feel you can keep yourself safe right now, seek immediate help.
Go to any hospital A&E department or call 999 and ask for an ambulance
Contact the Samaritans on freephone 116 123, (Tyneside branch: 0330 094 5717) they’re open 24 hours and are there to listen.
Contact your GP for an emergency appointment or the out of hours team call NHS 111 (England).