PAPYRUS Chief Executive Ged Flynn shares his reflections on the 30th World Congress of the International Association for Suicide Prevention. 

This week I had the privilege of being part of the 30th World Congress of the International Association for Suicide Prevention which was held in Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland. The theme of the conference was “Breaking Down Walls and Building Bridges”.

For five days, I was privileged to be living with, and working alongside, people who have suicide prevention as a key part of their role. Over 850 participants who have been touched by suicide (academics, researchers, politicians, front-line workers, medics, social care professionals, families, trainers and service providers) shared their experience and learning.

As you can imagine, there was much to ponder and learn. I was particularly interested in the emphasis being placed on #community in suicide prevention. I was also challenged and inspired to think more about how PAPYRUS, as a charity, might be able to do more focused work on some of the national policies which can often leave young people struggling and without hope.

Suicide is always complex and no individual measure provides a universal solution to this global public health concern. Yet, there are some things which certainly help others to live, however tough that might feel for them. Beyond all the Congress’s theories and models – the brilliant research, support services and the strategies – I was struck most forcibly by two things that reconnected me with life and, indeed, renewed my energy for our work.

  1. The kindness of the local people was exceptional, natural and generous. Myself and my colleagues from many nations were made to feel right at home. On a couple of occasions I asked for directions and people literally went out of their way – often considerably – to help me find what I was looking for. Why is that important in this context? Well, is not that natural human ability to be kind and generous at the heart of all we do in suicide prevention? I came away inspired (and challenged really) to try to #BeMoreKind and to be as generous as I am able to be with my own time and resources.
  1. A story. It is not unusual for me to meet people who have thoughts of suicide but I was especially moved this week by one person in the town, walking by me in the street. He noticed my lanyard with the word ‘suicide’ on it. He pointed to it and said, “I know about that.” Noticing the word ‘suicide’ gave him permission to engage me and then open up about his own suicide story.

It is a powerful reminder of how important it is to actually use the word ‘suicide’. By seeing that word written, a person was able to reach out and talk. His story helped me and hopefully helped him too.

This conversation did not cost anything but a few moments of our time. The man thanked me for being there. However, it was he who had shared a gift, not me. I came away feeling really moved and reconnected with why we do what we do at PAPYRUS:

The man told me that, following his recent suicide attempt, the people in the pub and at his local shop now look out for him and make sure that he gets home and that he is not alone when times get tough. That support is natural and human and it warms the heart. It doesn’t require funding. It is not a professional service. It’s people caring, giving hope and giving a damn. And we can all do that, I guess.

I’m reminded that, simply by being there, PAPYRUS gives hope and breaks taboo. Our open conversation about suicide enables people to talk about something which many often hide. We are always open to talk about suicide. Perhaps we take this for granted sometimes.

And afterwards, sitting in the airport waiting to fly to London, I was surrounded by hundreds of people. In the hustle and bustle, it made me think about their stories and how, in every bag, there is #pain and #hope in equal measure.

#BeMoreKind. You never know, you may help prevent another person from ending their life.

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