World Suicide Prevention Day

Today there are over one hundred thousand tweets about World Suicide Prevention Day. This is FANTASTIC! Unlike so many other issues, this really is one where you can help just by sharing a link or liking a post – because each click sends the message ‘its ok to talk about this’. Which it is. Always. (You could go even further and ask someone how they are really feeling – like the Australian ‘RUOK’ campaign that encourages people to answer the question ‘how are you?’ with a little more detail than the standard ‘fine’. If everybody you ask is ecstatically happy and goes on for hours about their life being all kittens and rainbows and comfortable shoes – forget nirvana, true happiness is comfy footwear –  you’ve still been a good friend and they know that you are willing to listen should they need to talk)

The phrase ‘suicide prevention’ is so important. When we talk about suicide it is usually as something someone has already done or attempted. What we avoid mentioning is just how many people have been driven to wishing to end their own lives, whether or not they act on it. The only way to combat the stigma and the isolation of people suffering is to talk about suicidal feelings. There are so many role models for those overcoming physical illness, but far fewer for those struggling with mental health (because someone thinking rationally about killing themselves is not mentally healthy however compus mentus you may feel – but that is ok. There is help and support and a lot less judgement than people anticipate. One great aspect of today’s awareness campaign is helping to dispel some of the stigma around suicidal thoughts and mental health).

Once you start talking, this is a really tough topic to talk about, whether you are helping someone or looking for help yourself. Here are two brilliant organisations that offer support:

Mind has centres across the UK that you can phone or visit for support, advice and great information about mental health disorders .  There are also lots of articles written by people with first hand experience – one of the toughest aspects of feeling suicidal is feeling isolated and alone but reading someone else’s experience of the same emotions, however different the circumstances, can really help dispel some of that ‘you against the world’ feeling.

Blurt is an absolute haven. The website is beautifully designed, it feels positive and calming, which is surprisingly important. The podcasts are on just the right topics, the articles are so well written (I defy anyone to read Charlotte’s story and claim she was being selfish, needy or overdramatic – words too often lurking in the background of our silence on suicide. It is frank and honest and straight from the heart), there are great initiatives to get involved with, a peer support group and you can even send someone (or yourself!) a care package. Suicidal thoughts often stem from it feeling too difficult to carry on, but Blurt helps make the whole business of living a bit more bearable.

This probably isn’t the most articulate thing I’ve ever written, but being able to talk about talking about suicide feels like one of the most important. I hope the buzz of today carries on long enough to make some changes to the way we approach such a difficult topic and each other.

Diana Nyad

Having talked about Malala, who proved you were never too young to stand up for what you believe in, Diana Nyad shows us that you should never give up on your ambitions. A long distance swimmer who made her name in the 70s decided, in her 60s, to tackle that Cuba to Florida stretch she’d been itching to do. It would be her longest swim, she’d been attempting it since the age of 28 and no one had ever done it without a shark cage (which is a pretty terrifying caveat – not only is the distance and your body out to get you but so are some big fast bitey things. Personally, I prefer my motivation without teeth).

Diana Nyad talks with such warmth, energy and good humour that she’s now pretty high on my imaginary dinner party list. She doesn’t let you forget for a moment how hard the training and that final swim was, physically and emotionally, or how much help she had along the way. Her success was not some fairytale but the result of hard work, serious preparation, a talented team and (I think) a good dose of sheer bloody mindedness! This woman and her acheivements are legendary.

Malala Yousefzai

Malala has been an inspiration since she first began speaking up for a girls right to education back in 2008. Having spoken out, been persecuted for it and come back stronger than before, and all before her 18th birthday, she stands testament to what can be achieved by anyone with enough courage and the right support. She speaks often of the love and encouragement from her parents. I’d really recommend watching her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, and the trailer of He named me Malala to hear about her story in her own words and her book has been on my wishlist for a while now!

Reading about her recent GCSE results in a BBC article made me buzz with excitement. This was an inspirational story twice over. Malala achieved this success in the toughest of circumstances, recovering from the shooting in a new country, attending school with a new language and culture , while still pining for her homeland and giving frequent talks and leading campaigns to promote education worldwide. To gain such high grades inspite of all this is fantastic!

The other way of looking at this, that should lend hope to my students and anyone struggling through school, is that Malala was already meeting world leaders, speaking at the UN and being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize before she even took the exams. She didn’t need academic credentials to make her voice heard and she speaks in such an articulate and powerful manner that no one questions her understanding or her age.

In short, sharing Malala’s exam results should give students encouragement that they can not only work through and overcome any challenge but that their acheivements and their contributions are not dictated by academic success. And that you should never believe anyone who says ‘that’s just how things are’.

Here are links to her Website and Facebook.