Today I have been on a Suicide and Self-Harming Course called Razor's Edge.
Not so much a 'How To' but more a 'What To Do When You Encounter It' crash course in delivering a mental Heimlich manoeuvre to distressed students. The course was presented by an energetic and erudite glinty-eyed psychiatrist who dressed like an undertaker and evidently regarded the outer extremes of human behaviour with something akin to the relish of a dangerous sports enthusiast, seeming a little disappointed not to have come across a patient with multiple personality disorder in his wide experience yet!
But for all that and a healthy dollop of black humour, Dr Bourne proved practical, compassionate and endlessly imaginative in the means he devised to postpone would-be suicidal practitioners until they'd had time to think it over and consider other solutions to their problems, and convince self-harmers there were safer means of obtaining that endorphin high or psychological relief achieved by cutting themselves.
During the course of the day he came through the door dressed in several guises, adopting the narrative, mannerisms and accents of several 'patients' for us to offer assistance to in the course of our day jobs. He then changed and came back to dissect each case, the advice we had given and the advice we might like to consider giving if it were to happen in real life. All the cases were based on real life cases so he was also able to tell us the real life outcome of each one.
We also learned some fascinating facts such as;
- Vets are the profession of highest suicide risk. Social isolation posted in small towns and villages where they might take a long time to be accepted into the community plus they have the means and they are trained to kill (ie put animals down)
- Hose pipe through the car window suicides have radically dropped in popularity in the last ten years owing to catalytic converters. Most modern cars would require you to sit in them for hours or even days to die, by which time you would have been discovered by interfering dog walkers many times over!
- The majority of suicides do it on impulse and are more likely to do it if they have the means to hand - therefore pharmacists and hospital doctors have a high suicide rate as they know exactly what to do for a quick, painless and certain end and have easy access to the means. GPs less so as few surgeries keep their own drugs on the premises and most must write out prescriptions for their patients to pick up at the pharmacy (providing the pharmacist is still alive!)
- When talking someone suicidal out of it, or at least into postponing it, do not underestimate their embarrassment. If they feel too foolish for backing down, particularly in a public place where crowds may have gathered and the emergency services may have arrived they may suddenly pluck up the resolve to kill themselves purely because they feel they could not live with the embarrassment of climbing down, literally, and this has become as pertinent to them as the original problem or set of problems which sent them to the top of the high building in the first place.
- Many suicides are still not recorded as such for various reasons but labelled 'misadventure' or 'accident' to spare family feelings. In addition it is impossible to be sure re many drug overdoses so it is likely that actual rates of suicide may be several times higher than officially recorded.
You could tell Dr Bourne was an enthusiast about his work as in an unwitting moment of humour and without a hint of irony he recommended 'Night Falls Fast:Understanding Suicide' by Kay Redfield Jamison as a good holiday read.
It may sound strange but I would recommend the Suicide and Self-Harming Course to anyone who deals with people in their day job. It is a kind of equivalent to First Aid but for the mind and was surprisingly uplifting in many ways taking the fear out of being confronted by such a situation, despite some of the exercises being pretty scary and a certain amount of stepping out of comfort zones required.
And it was of course impossible not to recall Dorothy Parker's famous verse on the subject.
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
I've often thought that if I'm ever famous enough to pen an autobiography it might be called 'If Things Don't Get Any Better In Six Months, THEN I'll Kill Myself', the joke of it being it would be a rolling six months which would eventually take me up to the end of my natural span by default!