Staying safe and learning to stay safe is so important.

Molly Russell  took her life aged only 14 after accessing graphic images of self-harm. Her father stated that Instagram had helped kill his daughter. As psychiatrists we are taught the importance of   thorough assessments of those who self-harm or are at potential risk of suicide, but the reality is that only one quarter of suicides had been seeing a mental health professional before the fatal event.

Recently I had the privilege of listening to a well-known expert, Dr Alys Cole-King talk on the topic of suicide prevention.


In three particular areas Dr Cole-King has helped to shape my thinking and practice. As a Consultant Psychiatrist working with the elderly, I frequently assess people who feel that life is not worth living or are having suicidal thoughts. In each case thorough assessment is vital, but what other messages does Dr Cole King bring?

Firstly, she emphasises the importance of Compassion. I am glad to see this being included in psychiatric practice.  Compassion is defined as sensitivity to the distress in others and a commitment to do something about it. If compassion is so important, to what extent can it be taught?  Do we have good role models for compassion? It is recorded several times that Jesus Christ  was moved with compassion and then met the particular needs of the people listening to Him. For example, He saw people as harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Gospel of Matthew 9v36) and in response, on this occasion, He taught the people, as He saw and recognised their individual needs.

Secondly, Dr Cole-King emphasises the importance of helping people look beyond the crisis. Questions like,’ When you previously faced major difficulty in your life, how did you get through?’ help point people beyond the immediate crisis. We know from helping those at the very point of suicide, that very often people do not actually want to die; it is rather that they cannot find a way through their difficulties. The story of Kevin Hynes in ‘Hey, Kid are you OK? illustrates this. He jumped from the Golden Gate bridge but after he jumped he cried out, ‘God, please save me. I don’t want to die!’ A sea lion nosed him to the surface until the rescue boat arrived and his life was saved.

.Thirdly, she emphasises the importance of having a good safety plan. This is something the person at risk can work on together with the person helping them. The website  gives a good example of a safety plan.

My book Mindful of the Light has two chapters on The person who is suicidal and Spiritual Help for the Suicidal Person

Although professional help is always advisable in the assessment of those who are suicidal, ASIST workshops help train people in suicide prevention.

STAYING SAFE is so important.