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BASW: social workers must confront taboos around suicide and depression

BASW is urging social workers to use today’s World Suicide Prevention Day to begin confronting taboos about suicide and depression, as a preventative film is launched with part funding from the Association.

BASW is also reminding social workers that there are a number of resources available to help, crucial assistance that can help prevent the traumatic affect of suicide and depression on families and professionals alike.

Commenting as World Suicide Prevention Day launches, BASW professional officer Joe Godden said: “More people in the UK die each year from suicide than die on our roads, yet the subject remains taboo for many people. The film we are helping to launch today is a useful resource for social workers to increase their own knowledge about suicide, but we encourage them to also show it to the service users that they work with.

“Many of the people that we work with are burdened by huge pressures in their lives, and are more likely to be at an increased risk of suicide.

“It is important to look out for signs of people who may be at risk of suicide, often it is not simply a case of someone saying outright ‘I want to kill myself’. Signs of depression can be varied and sometimes subtle too. Classic symptoms can differ depending on the person’s age or circumstances.

“It is all about creating trust so that people can be honest with their social worker about how they are feeling. If asked sensitively and in the right way, it is OK to ask people directly if they are feeling suicidal.

“Social work skills in communication, and really listening to people, are so important. It is much better to ask than to suppress any fears you may have about a person’s mental health.”

“It is important also that social workers seek help for themselves if they are experiencing depression. Social work is a stressful job for many reasons, and as social workers, we often neglect our own well-being, expending time and emotional energy supporting others, but not thinking about our own mental health. Friends and colleagues may perceive us as having the knowledge and resources to cope, which can make it more difficult to raise concerns about our mental health.”

BASW is running a ‘Looking After Ourselves’ seminar on 16 October.

Some signs to look out for when considering if a service user is suicidal:

  1. A history of attempted suicide (although many people who die from suicide have not made a known previous attempt)
  2. A history of self-harm
  3. Demography – Suicide rates for men, particularly middle aged and older men is much higher than women
  4. History of mental ill health, people admitted to hospital for psychiatric treatment are at greater risk
  5. People with chronic health problems
  6. People who are socially isolated
  7. Life changing events, such as unemployment or redundancy
  8. Debts, poverty
  9. People who are recently bereaved

BASW is part of a coalition of UK organisations that have funded a film called “U Can Cope” being launched today, World Suicide Prevention Day, to spread the message that it is possible to overcome suicidal thoughts and feelings, and that there are many resources available to help those who are struggling to cope.

The film includes expert commentaries from Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist, Dr Alys Cole-King, and features a number of testimonials from both men and women who had sought help and overcome suicidal thoughts.

The film promotes three main messages:

  • Anyone can experience suicidal thoughts
  • There is always hope
  • There is always help

Commenting on the film’s release, Dr Alys Cole-King said: “Suicidal thoughts start because people feel overwhelmed by their problems or their situation and find it hard to ‘see a way out’. It’s not that they necessarily want their life to end, it’s just that they cannot cope with their emotional or physical pain anymore.”

Resources for social workers:

U Can Cope film

ALDRIDGE David; BARRERO Sergio Perez;A comprehensive guide to suicidal behaviours: working with individuals at risk and their families. London: Jessica Kingsley, 2012

Department of Health “Help is at hand”

Organisations funding the “U Can Cope” film and campaign for World Suicide Prevention Day:

The British Association of Social Workers

Open Minds Alliance CIC


The Royal College of Psychiatrists

Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board Charitable Funds

Primhe and Primhe Training CIC

Sandwell PCT

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

STORM Skills Training CIC

Mental Health Foundation

Cariad yn Cyfri

Suicide Safer London