The importance of reaching out

10 September 2021

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, we spoke to Tim Kent, Tavistock psychotherapist and social worker, to gather his insights on this most difficult of issues and what we can all do to notice and support those who may be vulnerable to suicide.


It may surprise some people, but the largest proportion of people who die by suicide are not known to mental health services, and are not those who have reached out for help. When people are desperate they may not feel they deserve help, or understand there could be help that could alleviate their pain. Often, what pushes people to suicide is this emotional pain and wanting to stop the suffering.

Mental suffering and emotional wounds may be invisible, but can be just as deadly as cancer or any other physical disease. We wouldn’t think twice about going to A&E if we break a leg. But to this day, mental health problems can be shrouded with shame, guilt and self-reproach, and this essential care we would instinctively extend to our bodies can be neglected for our minds. This stigma can be especially profound within different communities, ages and cultures.

The causes of this pain are also diverse. For some the cause of their suffering is abuse, whether this be emotional, physical or sexual from childhood or adulthood, which can be shrouded in secrecy and shame, compounding their trauma and causing unbearable pain.

There are many ways to approach trying to support those suffering. For some people medication feels like a ‘proper’ intervention and being given pills can be reassuring in itself, however people can feel palmed off with medication as a patch or quick fix if it is prescribed without further support. At the Tavistock we also believe that talking therapies can be a powerful medicine. Being in the presence of another person who is interested, understanding and empathetic can be a game changer – that is the relationship itself can be a primary means of change.

Outside of a professional, clinical context we all have the power to make a difference. Reaching out and showing you care, saying hello, asking how someone is, truly listening, can be the first steps in someone opening up and feeling seen. It can seem daunting, as if we’re overstepping, to approach a neighbour or older person in the community we may be concerned about, but in all likelihood they will be grateful for these small acts of kindness. One also has to consider that sometimes people push away attempts to be helped and repeat age old patterns of self-destructive behaviour that are extremely hard to shift. It is the relationship to help itself that is often distorted or held in suspicion if people and relationships have been a problem in life rather than a cure.

The impact of the pandemic

The last 18 months has catalysed a revolution for many people’s working lives, with the possibilities of remote working. For many this has created accessibility and enabled a newfound work / life balance. However, one of the risks is that this can insulate us from human social contact. We don’t have to experience and feel things outside of our own 2D, rectangular bubble. There’s something about the connection, the sensory experience that is lacking. Things we notice in people when we share the same space can be missed.

There are a great many benefits to being online, social media for example can be used to connect with those we couldn’t otherwise, but we should take caution. A lot of people suffer in silence, and the chasm between us can grow when we are only connected via screens. And there are many who don’t use the internet, whether this is due to lack of access, generation, language. They may be feeling more shut out from the world than ever.

When we reach out to people, and consciously break through this bubble, this can be a lifeline. A way to show someone cares, and this can make all the difference between someone who opens up about their pain and is supported and directed to getting the help they need, and someone who suffers in silence.

Need urgent help?

In an emergency

If you don’t feel you can keep yourself safe right now, seek immediate help:

  • go to any Accident & Emergency (A&E) department
  • call 999 and ask for an ambulance to take you to A&E
  • ask someone else to call 999 for you or take you to A&E

If you need urgent support but don’t want to go to A&E, you can:

If you want to help someone else, see the page on the Mind website about how to help someone else seek help, including how to help someone else in an emergency.

Crisis line for young people and their parents/carers

If you live in Barnet, Enfield, Haringey, Camden or Islington and are aged between 0 and 18 years old, or care for someone that is, you can now access a crisis line if you are in need of urgent mental health support or advice. Contact them on: 

0800 151 0023

This line operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you are an existing patient you can also continue to contact your clinical team in the usual way.

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