An extraordinary decade-long anti-suicide programme in Detroit has been a stunning success. Suicides dropped by 75% within 4 years and from 2008 through 2010 there were no suicides at all. How did the people at the Henry Ford Health System achieve this?
According to Sara Hughes of UK Charity MIND it has come about in part from an attempt to “destigmatise” the use of the word suicide in during therapy. There has been an historical fear the using the word was a trigger. The results from Detroit show us the opposite is true. Hughes says, “breaking the taboo is the biggest thing for us”.
Why? Clients want to be known. They want someone to understand their suffering – not just the nature of the pain but also the degree of it. If we leave the bogey-man of suicide out of the conversation not only are we failing to understand the degree of pain but we may be understood to be saying “there is only so much we can deal with in here – you’re on your own with the rest”. This furthers the isolation that is the common bed-fellow of despair. Suddenly they are not so alone.
That element of suicide which is in part a form of final communication about the degree of ones suffering becomes less important.