World Mental Health Day: Suicide Prevention - Zainah Khan blog
9 October 2019 - Zainah Khan
The mental health conversation is becoming more and more acceptable and this year’s World Mental Health Day provides a timely reminder to consider our approach to mental health and in particular this year’s theme of Suicide Prevention Anxiety, stress and depression are more understood than ever before.
We are more willing and comfortable with sharing our personal perspectives and experiences. We have a greater desire to encourage friends, family members, colleagues, partner and even strangers to take care of their mental health. Every time I deliver a training session on mental health in a workplace, employees will ask, without fail, how they can better support their colleagues in bettering their mental health.
Mental health has become incredibly topical. For those who might have become bored with hearing about mental health, we have introduced newer, sexier terminology such as wellbeing, wellness and staying well. Perhaps part of changing the words we use for mental health might be so that the subject doesn’t sound too heavy. After all, the stigma has not ended yet and I am still frequently in contact with professionals who fear admitting their mental health issues. It could still suggest weakness and shame that could hinder reputations, status and all-important career progression.
World Suicide Prevention Day falls every year on 10th September and reminds us that the harsh reality is this: mental health is not just about the “light-touch” initiatives that are easy to implement at work. I am thinking of ping-pong tables in breakout spaces, an increase in office plants and maybe the offer of free fruit to replace the flapjack and shortbread. These are all great ways to create a mentally healthy workplace but they can never be a remedy for serious and severe mental health issues.
To end the stigma for good, we must discuss mental health for all that it is. This includes those heavy subjects such as self-harm, psychosis and suicide that are easy to avoid. This month has reminded us that there is a darker side of mental health. Not understanding these issues does not mean we cannot contribute to erasing their stigma. Not understanding the darker side of mental health only means that we must be prepared to listen more and have the courage to ask seemingly difficult questions. And herein gain understanding. This is what it means to end the stigma.
World Suicide Prevention Day falls on the 10th September every year. It reminds us that sometimes our mental health can deteriorate so much that we might not be able to find a single reason to live. As a result, people might take the decision to end their lives. The numbers of people taking this decision is growing. Deaths by suicide have risen by 11.8% in the UK since 2018. The number of men ending their own lives is still three times greater than those of women who die by suicide. The rates of death among under 25’s has increased sharply by 23.7%, totalling 730 deaths in 2018.
These are not just stats. They are lives. Lives that are important and precious. Lives that mean a huge amount to those that know them. Lives owned by people who are valued, people who are loved and significant. It is deeply saddening to think that in moments of mental ill-health, people do not feel that any of the above is real. It is more likely that they reinforce the opposite. The truth is that when we take the decision to end our lives, it rarely feels as though it is a choice. It feels like the only option. The only way we can make it possible to escape our distressing thoughts and feelings is to stop living.
We might feel as though we cannot talk about suicide because it is so far removed from our own experience. We cannot relate to it. But if we were really honest if asked “have you ever thought it would be better if you weren’t here?”, the results might be surprisingly high. These thoughts might have manifested during a set of circumstances we felt were unresolvable, maybe a life-event that changed our identity, a feeling of deep regret or remorse. That same thinking can easily escalate into a louder internal voice and thereon a plan that becomes realised.
If people are feeling suicidal, from an outsider’s perspective we might not see the validity of their reasons. Surely, no situation or thought is worth our life? However, to effectively support them, we must trust that their reasons are valid to them. Suicidal thoughts limit our perspective and it becomes almost too easy to feel hopeless, worthless and isolated. These are heavy, intense thinking patterns that breed self-doubt and loneliness.
The most unhelpful thing we can do is to exacerbate these feelings by expressing that we do not understand. Being human means that despite us not living the same life as someone else, we have the ability to share their feelings. We are able to empathise and identify the feelings of sadness, inadequacy and overwhelm. When we empathise with the feelings of another, we are making huge statements about how much we value them; empathy says we care, it tells an often very lonely person that we are there for them and that they are important to us.
We do not need to be an expert in someone else’s life to be able to support them. Nor do we need to be a mental health professional. One of the most beautiful things about being human is that we all share the same feelings. We may not experience them to the same degree or intensity than someone else, but we know what it feels like to be frightened, worried, stressed, helpless, insecure.. the list goes on…
Tapping into our “human side” and using empathy to connect with one another is incredibly powerful. It can start with a simple question such as “how are you feeling?” or even “how are you”, asked with sincerity and patience. We really can save a life just by asking “how’s things?”, and meaning it.
About Zainah Khan:
Zainah is an alumna of Leeds Beckett University, where following her studies she took on a role to support student wellbeing.
As a qualified psychotherapist, Zainah knows and understands the impact of work stress on both our mental and physical being, and is equipped with the right skills to support those in highly-pressurised working situations.
Chakra was founded after Zainah’s idea for a more effective solution for corporate mental strength and employee wellbeing won Best Business Pitch at the Entrepreneur’s Bootcamp in July 2015 and a Business Advantage Award with Lupton Fawcett Solicitors in 2016. Three years later, Chakra is a team of 15 wellbeing practitioners plus core staff that are Leeds-based and wellbeing services are delivered nationally.
Zainah’s career began in finance and her experience of supporting people in emotionally difficult situations is broad. This includes supporting victims of crime at all levels with Victim Support and the perpetrators of domestic abuse with the domestic violence unit. She has worked therapeutically with students at all levels of education and more recently has focused on wellbeing in the legal industry and professional services.
Chakra completed its Mental Strength for the Nation Tour last year, delivering a series of mental strength masterclasses across the major cities of the country. Chakra and Zainah are very grateful for the huge amount of support received from Fortem People, particularly during the launch of the tour in March 2018.
Zainah has just been recognised by Business Insider as one of 42 Under 42 most exciting entrepreneurs in the Yorkshire region. When she is running the business, Zainah can be found lifting weights at her local gym or searching for the finest Indian cuisine or cheesecake.