What do you say?
What would you say to someone who you cared about, who had withdrawn from life and may be at risk of suicide? That is the question that ‘I made this for you’, a poignant and moving film, attempts to portray in the context of Al, a young man who has isolated himself from friends and family, the very people in his life who are trying to help him see the light.
The film uses a simple talking heads format to touch upon some complex and difficult themes surrounding mental health and suicide. In his self-enforced withdrawal, Al is slipped a DVD under his door, made by a close friend, that he watches in a moment of crisis. The video turns out to be a compilation of clips of people from throughout his life recounting what he means to them; the good, the bad and the amusing. The film manages not to be overly sentimental, as often the stories focus on his own failures and include people in his life who have caused him distress. Overall, they paint a picture of a life full of love but not without trouble.
The film highlights the complex interplay of events and past trauma that can lead to a person feeling trapped by life, and that suicide is their only option. As is the case with the protagonist here, often it is not just one thing that will lead to suicidal thinking developing, as we explore his troubled childhood, possible vulnerabilities, failed relationships and difficulty dealing with emotions. The film also does well to characterise the mental state of a person in suicidal crisis, as one friend accurately suggests, people make the decision to end their lives as they believe that their death will stop the pain – the psychological pain that often feels like it will never end. Although his friends are frustrated and some are angry about his suicide attempt, ultimately they are saddened that he was so depressed that he felt so overwhelmed, that suicide was for him the only way out.
The themes that are presented within the film reflect central aspects of psychological models developed by researchers to understand suicide, for example the Integrated Motivational-Volitional (IMV) Model of suicidal behaviour developed by Professor Rory O’Connor. This model suggests that people can be vulnerable to the development of suicidal thinking due a combination of environmental stressors, predisposition and personality factors. These vulnerability factors may contribute to an individual more likely to feel defeated by life, and a sense of entrapment may emerge. It is this entrapment that is proposed to be a key driver for the development of suicidal thinking, with feeling trapped and wanting to escape, from both external and internal forces, shown to be associated with suicidal thoughts.
At the Suicidal Behaviour Research Lab (SBRL), we have been investigating the development of entrapment and its relationship with suicidal thinking. For example, in a study from the SBRL we found that entrapment was associated with suicidal ideation, and is a key mechanism for feelings of defeat to be related to suicidal thinking. Recent research at SBRL has also explored how to help people who feel trapped and in suicidal crisis, and one such study uses a safety planning intervention that aims to help people recognise and better cope with their triggers for suicidal thinking, by providing alternative behaviours to help get them through that moment of crisis.
The hopeful message of the film is that reaching out to people in their moment of crisis can make a real difference. It encourages all of us to self-reflect on how what we do can impact upon others, and that although life’s challenges can pile up there are people out there who care and crucially, that the mental pain will subside.
The film makers have made the film available to watch for free (Channel 4) from World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th until World Mental Health Awareness Day on October 10th.
More details about the research of the Suicidal Behaviour Research Lab can be found at http://www.suicideresearch.info
- Dr Karen Wetherall, Suicidal Behaviour Research Lab, Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow
The film is now available to watch for free on YouTube globally. The release marks World Suicide Prevention Day and will be showing on the platform for a month until World Mental Health Day on October 10th.
If you are affected by suicide or you are worried about someone, Samaritans are available 24/7 on 08457 90 90 90 (UK). They are also available by email [email protected]
O'Connor, R.C., Kirtley, O.J. (2018). The Integrated Motivational-Volitional Model of Suicidal Behaviour. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 373: 20170268
Wetherall, K., Robb, K.A., O'Connor, R.C. (2018). An examination of social comparison and suicidal ideation through the lens of the Integrated Motivational-Volitional Model of suicidal behavior. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.
O’Connor, R.C., Lundy, J-M., Stewart, C., Smillie, S., McClelland, H., Syrett, S., Gavigan, M., McConnachie, A., Smith, M., Smith, D.J., Brown, G., Stanley B., & Simpson, S.A. (2019). Study Protocol for the SAFETEL randomised controlled feasibility trial of a Safety Planning Intervention with Follow-up Telephone Contact to Reduce Suicidal Behaviour. BMJ Open. 9 (2).
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