My boss used to say to me that I was the only youth worker who had so many suicidal clients. I wondered why. Was I doing something wrong? No, I truly believe that it was because I was doing something right.
LGBTQ young people were coming to me at the drop-in youth group in Brighton and opening up about their suicidal thoughts.
As an LGBTQ youth worker back then I was very aware of the disproportionate levels of mental health issues and suicide risk of LGBTQ people. And so undertaking training to support people who were suicidal was one of the best things I could have done.
I will always remember how scared the faces of those young people as they skirted around the subject of suicide, dropping clues but being so scared to say the word, so scared that I might tell their parents and that they might somehow get in trouble.
It was my job to help alleviate those fears, listen out for hints that they might be trying to tell me something and to ask them directly if they were thinking about suicide.
When I first started to do this I was very scared too and remember worrying that I might somehow put an idea into their head, even though I had been taught that this is a complete myth.
My fear somehow got in the way and those early conversations were probably pretty clunky, but I was being real and being with each client.
Through time I became familiar with talking about suicide in that job and was relieved that more and more young people were feeling able to speak up about those terrifying thoughts they were having. They just wanted to escape terrible situations, and suicide felt like a solution.
My training around suicide has taught me that helping remind people that delaying acting on suicidal thoughts can help keep us safe, as after a few weeks, days or even a few hours things can feel very different.
I am committed to helping people find that hope inside themselves and find a reason to keep living.
Since that job as an LGBTQ youth worker I have done various roles where I have worked with vulnerable adults as well as young people. In particular I remember my time at Mind in Brighton and Hove where, as a mental health advocate, it was rare to have anyone on my caseload who wasn’t talking about suicide.
As a result of all of these experiences, I come to my counselling work today very committed to ending the stigma of talking about suicide. It is so, so common for people to think about suicide, even though they might never intend to act on those thoughts. Nonetheless it is still very serious and very important to talk about.
As counsellors we need to talk about suicide and be comfortable asking our clients if we think they might be suicidal, as research shows us that this can help keep people safe.
10th September is World Suicide Prevention Day, an annual event where organisations and communities around the world come together to raise awareness about how we can create a world where fewer people die by suicide.
I hope that in reading this fellow counsellors can find ways to build their confidence in asking about and talking directly about suicide.
If you would like to learn more about working with suicidal ideation in LGBTQ clients why not get in touch to arrange a private workshop for your team or group of fellow counsellors?
Trans and non-binary clients in particular can fear their counsellor outing or misgendering them if their counsellor were to need to break confidentiality. In a group workshop we will work together to think about how, as a counsellor, you might contract with clients, paying particular attention to names, pronouns, titles and limits to confidentiality.
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