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Rita Blackler - the Lincolnshire woman determined to help save lives

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: October 13, 2012

Rita Blackler

Rita Blackler

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Someone, somewhere, in the world dies every 40 seconds by suicide. In this county, around 60 people each year kill themselves – a figure higher than the national average. Hoping to change that trend is Rita Blackler who works for the NHS in Lincolnshire. Dawn Hinsley went to meet Ritato find out why there are also very personal reasons behind her passion to make a difference...


Have you ever thought "I don't want to be here any more"? You wouldn't be alone.

One in 20 people at any one time in Britain are having thoughts of suicide.

Rita Blackler knows how devastating it can be when someone follows through on that desperation. As ASIST Lead for Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Rita, who lives in Cherry Willingham, is determined to help save lives...

The more we talk about suicide and the less stigma and taboo there is, the more we can affect change.

I have been working as ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) Lead, a part-time role, since mid-April. My job is basically to improve awareness about suicide in the community in the hope that we can keep people safe. The greater the awareness, the more likely we are going to do that.

We put on free courses which train people to make a first aid intervention and teach skills to recognise the signs of those who might be suicidal and how to try to deal with the situation.

We want this increased awareness to spread all through the county, particularly in areas where there has been a high suicide rate.

Another way we are reaching out is through events in towns and cities. We recently held a market stall event at New Life Centre in Lincoln and we are planning another in Skegness early in 2013.

As a county we are working really hard, with lots of organisations coming together to bring the suicide figures for Lincolnshire right down.

People are often frightened to ask questions like "do you feel suicidal or are you thinking of taking your own life?" in case they get the answer back "yes" and won't know what to do about it or how to help.

Some people also think if they ask somebody if they are thinking about suicide and they are mistaken, it might put the thought in their mind. But it never will. So I would encourage people not to be frightened to ask the question and to seek training to learn how to help.

There is a lot of shame and guilt attached to suicide, often because people feel they could or should have spotted the signs and done something, especially when it's someone close to them. Some think suicide is cowardly, particularly if they are left to cope with the pain and possibly a difficult life situation such as debt.

If the stigma and the taboo is reduced, people will hopefully talk to someone. Suicide figures are increasing for males and middle age men in particular. Issues like the recession and high unemployment are a factor, and I think men in particular find it difficult to ask for help. But if only they would, there are so many organisations offering support.

The latest figures I have for the East Midlands (2010) show 4.9 women for every 100,000 in the population committed suicide compared with 14.9 men. That is a big difference. I think it's possibly also about the means, women will often have unsuccessful attempts through over-dosing but men tend to go for ways with more definite results.

The vast majority of people who take their own lives don't actually want to die, they just want to be free of the pain and situation they are in.

We talk a lot about attitudes on our courses – our attitudes as 'care givers' and the attitudes of the person at risk and who is responsible if someone takes their own life. Some feel that a person who completes suicide can't be in their right mind and are therefore not responsible.

We talk about the fact that it takes some presence of mind to plan a suicide and find the means to do it and that ultimately they are responsible. If someone close to them can spot the signs and asks the "are you thinking of suicide?" question they can help them see there is the option of life as well as death and can help them to find those reasons to stay alive.

Which comes back to the importance of talking. If a person with suicidal thoughts can talk about the way they are feeling, another person may be able to suggest ways they haven't thought about to help to improve their situation which will take the focus away from the desire to die.

When a close family member of mine took his own life, such was the stigma and taboo, his wife didn't let anyone know he had died. He had actually been buried by the time we found out, so we missed his funeral with no chance to say our goodbyes and were told he'd suffered a heart attack. His widow then told my sister he had taken his own life but asked her not to tell the rest of the family. My sister did tell us as she thought we should know.

There was such a futility about the whole thing. We just kept thinking "if only he had talked to someone, his life might have been saved". Something could have been done.

With suicide there's always the "if only".

A natural part of the grieving process is anger. And if I am honest there was a time when I felt a bit cross he didn't give anyone the option, a chance to let us give him our opinion on his decision and the reasons he felt he had to take his own life. A chance to say "whatever has happened we can live with it and maybe you can do the same".

A chance to say "we don't you want you to take your own life over it".

The suicide of a friend of my sister's, in many ways, affected me more.

I was at my sister's house one evening and he actually phoned her and told her he had taken an overdose and wanted to die. We were each talking with him on the telephone and called the police as we kept him talking.

He told us he was in the middle of a field somewhere. We tried to get help to him and encourage him to go somewhere someone could help him. But in the end we were on the phone to him as he went unconscious and then died. He wasn't found for about three days.

It was awful and again we were left thinking "why did he not come and talk to us before he did it?" It was such a waste, such a waste of life. We did everything we could on the telephone but couldn't help him. That stays with you as well.

I don't know what a person who is suicidal is going through but I have been on the other end and I have seen people who are very desperate. I am also a magistrate and a counsellor which makes me very aware, and having experiences of my own, it all makes me very passionate about what I do as ASIST Lead.

It's very easy when you are going through something really desperate to think "I don't want to get up in the morning" or "I want to end it all". People say these emotive things all the time but if you know someone who often says things like this please don't assume they don't mean it. Take it seriously.

If you are dealing with a genuine suicide attempt, you are not wasting police time to call 999. It's someone's life.

Suicide can seem selfish to others but in that situation the individual is focused on just one thing – death. The difference between someone wanting to live and wanting to die can be simply helping them to find that reason for wanting to stay alive. Something they have probably forgotten or lost sight of in their pain – perhaps a family member that relies on them or even a loved pet.

HELP AT HAND

Courses: ASIST – a two-day training course teaching people how to keep someone safe. Safe Talk – suicide awareness (three and a half hours). If you wish to join either of these free courses contact Sue Broadbent by calling 01529 416251 for more information.

If you, or someone you know, needs help and support, here are some organisations who will be able to provide assistance: Samaritans can be contacted 24 hours a day, 08457 909090helplines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm, 0300 123 3393. A support group called the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is a resource for young men who are feeling unhappy. CALM helpline 0800 585858. Contact your GP to discuss your concerns.

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