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What works in suicide prevention? Lessons from the 113 Helpline

As part of the ‘1K Z1E J3’ campaign week, which runs from 11 to 15 September, 113 Suicide Prevention gave a guest lecture about suicide prevention at the Spanish Steps in Wijnhaven: ‘The most important thing you can do is ask someone how they are really doing.’

Marieke Liem, professor Security and Interventions at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs, opened the lecture by reflecting on suicide as a serious public health problem. Liem: ‘Every 40 seconds, a person in the world dies by suicide. In The Netherlands alone, that accumulates to 1850 people a year who die by suicide.’

Liem continued to explain how Leiden University and FGGA aim to contribute to reducing the global burden of suicide: ‘We do this in three ways: through research, through education and directly by prevention, for example by organising events like these.’ Earlier this summer, the University showcased its eagerness to contribute to reducing the burden of suicide by installing the ‘1K Z1E J3’-bench on the roof terrace at Wijnhaven. Last week, a bench was placed at the Plexus student centre in Leiden and in the coming period, benches will also be placed at other university locations. By scanning the QR code on the bench, people can contact 113 Suicide Prevention directly.

Saskia Mérelle

Facts and figures about the rising suicide rate across the globe

Saskia Mérelle, senior researcher on suicide among young people at 113, presented the findings of a study conducted by 113 which focused on the reasons behind the sharp increase in suicides among young people. ‘Suicide might seem far from your personal life, but it affects many people.’

In The Netherlands, suicide is the leading cause of death among people under 30 years, with 1 in 5 deaths among teenagers being caused by suicide. Among young adults (20 to 30 years), these numbers rise to 1 in 3 deaths. Scientists and researchers have repeatedly asked themselves what the reason is behind these numbers. There are many hypotheses, but scientific answers are not clear today. Mérelle: ‘It could be because of the rise in social media use, cyber bullying or performance pressure.’

What stands out in the study, is that 50% of young people that commit suicide drop out of school. This shows the need for universities and schools to raise awareness about the subject early on. ‘We need more education about suicide. Young people learn about sexual health and have to follow gymnastics classes, but mental health is not really touched upon in school.’

Additionally, young people experience taboo when it comes to suicide, especially among adults. They either feel like a burden, or they fear they might not be taken seriously. Young people often do not know where to find accessible help: even a general practitioner might be a bridge too far. Therefore, we should focus on explaining how and where young people can find the right help.

‘Listen and be curious about what the other person has to say. Never underestimate how much of a difference you can make by just being there and asking questions.’

What you can do to help

If you need help or if you are worried about someone else, you can contact the 113 helpline. Maryke Geerdink, clinical psychologist and manager of the helpline at 113, explained the different ways in which 113 can help. ‘We have a 24/7 helpline, a counsel and advice line for professionals and we offer online therapy and counselling.’ During these conversations with the helpline, the aim is to get the people on the phone through the day or through the night: ‘We are unable to change all the problems someone may experience by just one phone call.’

Geerdink provided advice to the people attending the lecture what they can do to help someone in need. She emphasised that the most important thing to do is to engage: ‘Make contact, engage in a proper conversation and really be there for someone.’ She emphasises that it is also important to look after yourself before you intend to look after someone else. ‘Take the example of being on an airplane. When they go through the safety instructions, you are told to help yourself before helping someone else, because you cannot help another person if you are running out of oxygen. Looking after yourself is the only way you can look after another person.’ Never keep the story to yourself, but confide in someone: ‘You cannot be responsible for someone's safety on your own.’

Ending her talk, Geerdink leaves the audience with an important message: ‘Listen and be curious about what the other person has to say. Never underestimate how much of a difference you can make by just being there and asking questions. However, keep in mind that whether someone decides to take the next step is always up to them. Please know you are never responsible.’

Get informed

Do you want to know more about what you can do to help, the work of 113 Suicide Prevention, or about suicide prevention more generally? Visit the website of 113 or have a look at the minor Violence Studies and the Governance of Violence specialisation of the Crisis and Security Management programme.

Text: Nadine Louissen

Do you yourself need help?

If you are having suicidal thoughts or are worried about someone else, talking can help. Chat with 113 at www.113.nl or call them on 0800-0113. Conversations with 113 are anonymous and confidential. You can also contact 113 if you do not speak Dutch. Is your life in danger? Call 112 immediately.

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