‘Suicide is not inevitable’: How Derbyshire people can help others who may be struggling during the coronavirus pandemic

We are all living through very difficult times right now – and people across Derbyshire are being urged to talk to their loved ones about how they are feeling.

Monday, 5th October 2020, 4:45 pm

The coronavirus crisis is taking a big toll on many people’s mental health – and risk factors related to suicide have increased through the pandemic.

Sadly, Tricia Black knows all too well about the tragedy of suicide and says it is especially important to raise awareness about the issue during the current emergency.

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Tricia Black with the suicide prevention leaflet she produced last year.

Her father Terence Neal, 77, of Unstone, took his own life in 2018.

Since his death, Tricia has been working to shine a spotlight on mental health and suicide prevention.

The 54-year-old said: “With Covid-19 and its mental health repercussions, it is very timely to speak about suicide and its prevention.

“From my own experience and from what I have read, those with suicidal feelings are very, very good at hiding it.

Terence Neal, who died by suicide in 2018.

“I think my main message to families and friends who are concerned about a loved one is to never ignore your gut instinct.

“Many people will know that something is not quite right and need to be courageous, think the unthinkable and ask the question they really don’t want answered in the affirmative – ‘are you thinking about suicide?’

“People need to listen and listen some more, without judgement, then state they are there to offer support and ask if there is anything they can do to help.”

Last year, Tricia produced a leaflet designed to help people who have suicidal thoughts.

A number of inquests relating to suicide have been heard at Chesterfield Coroner's Court recently - although it is important to point out that these deaths preceded the pandemic.

She also organised a successful mental health awareness event in 2019 and hopes to hold another one next year.

Paying tribute to her dad, Tricia, of Dronfield, said: “He was big-hearted, had a ready smile and was unstinting with his time, not only with us, his family, but those within the local community.

“He was a lovely man.”

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show 77 suicides were recorded in Derbyshire in 2019. The figure was 73 the previous year.

We have covered a number of inquests recently about people who have taken their own lives – although it is important to point out that these deaths preceded the pandemic.

James Creaghan, Derbyshire County Council’s lead officer on mental health, said: “There has not been a significant increase in the number of suicides in Derby and Derbyshire in confirmed data and we do not have evidence to indicate that the suicide rate has increased since March amid the impact of Covid-19.

“The data shows that the numbers fluctuate year to year, so we look to the rolling year averages where Derbyshire is similar to the national average for the suicide rate.”

Councillor Carol Hart, the county council’s cabinet member for health and communities, added: “We know that the risk factors related to suicide have increased through the pandemic, so it’s more important than ever for people to look for any signs that friends, family or people they come into contact with are having emotional difficulties.

“If you think they might be feeling really low, depressed or anxious, don’t be nervous about asking them how they are feeling.

“Asking them how they’re feeling shows compassion, that you care and can give people hope.

“By listening well to their feelings it can help to lessen any negative thoughts they may have and help them through a difficult moment.

“Suicide is not inevitable and there is help and support out there to help people recover.

“The county council and its partners have a comprehensive programme of work around preventing suicide.”

That work includes the launch this month of a county-wide network of informal peer support groups for men, led by the charity Mentell.

According to the Samaritans charity, callers to its helpline are generally more anxious and distressed now than before the pandemic.

Many callers have expressed fears about losing their jobs and not being able to pay bills, among other things.

Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of the Samaritans, said: “It is not inevitable that suicide rates will go up as a result of coronavirus – but we know that the pandemic is impacting on lots of people’s lives and exacerbating some known risk factors for suicide for some people who are already vulnerable.

“Undoubtedly, the pandemic has affected everyone in society, but Samaritans is particularly worried about three groups: people with pre-existing mental health conditions, young people who self-harm, and less well-off middle-aged men.

“It is essential that these groups are given the support they need before people reach crisis point.

“Suicide prevention must be a priority right now, so we can save lives.”

According to the Centre for Mental Health charity, an estimated 8.5 million adults and 1.5 million children in England will need mental health support in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nick O’Shea, chief economist at the Centre For Mental Health, said: “The challenge of meeting the mental health needs arising out of the pandemic may be as great as the many difficulties of responding to the virus.

“So it must be taken as seriously. We must prepare now for what lies ahead.”

If you, or someone you know, is feeling suicidal, there are several things you can do:

- speak to a friend, family member or someone you trust

- call the Samaritans’ free 24-hour support service on 116 123

- call the Derbyshire mental health support line on 0800 028 0077. This is staffed by mental health professionals, open 24 hours a day and for all ages

- contact NHS 111

- make an urgent appointment to see your GP

- go to your nearest accident and emergency department and tell the staff how you are feeling

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