For this weeks’ Wednesday Webinar at Resilient Pilot we discussed the ‘Caring Conversation’ needed to prevent and raise awareness of suicide. Christo Hudson, a training captain, former incident investigator, and founder of The Black Box Approach, joined us for a caring conversation on this sensitive but serious topic.
From Christo, “It takes a lot of courage to talk about this kind of uncomfortable subject, but everything I have been doing as a trainer was actually about caring for people and that’s why I train people how to speak and how to talk”. Thereby, this article is written with huge respect to Christo, summarising the conversation.
It's important to note that some people may find the subject emotionally confronting, and you may want to identify someone you can talk to if it affects you.
Did you know…
Most people thinking of suicide do not want their lives to end, they just want the pain to stop.
Most people thinking about suicide let others know, consciously or subconsciously. Therefore, if we know the signs we can respond...
Suicide is one of the most preventable deaths.
Why are we talking about this subject?
We are a community united by our love of aviation, committed to doing our best for safety and proud of what we do. No matter how well we did our job we always feel “I could have done better” with that willingness to grow. We do not want to be seen as underperforming, especially during training or testing.
Of course, we were not prepared for a pandemic like COVID-19. However, this turbulent period has exposed everyone in our aviation community (pilots, cabin crew, engineers, etc) to particularly high psychological stressors. These then lead to psychological strains (mental illnesses), which in turn might negatively affect crews whilst waiting to return to work.
"We are all human and associated with emotions, that’s why we need to talk about it” We all have mental health. However, our Resilience to maintain our mental health in the wake of such stressors and fears is dependent on protective factors such as support from both the human level (family, friends and colleagues) and peer support systems. This is why Resilient Pilot was born. With wellbeing at the heart of what we do, we are here for you.
The shocking statistics
Whilst a plane takes off or lands (pre-Covid) at LHR every 45 seconds, a person ending her or his life somewhere in the world occurs every 40 seconds.
1 in 20 people (5%) in the community are having suicidal thoughts.
Big boys don’t cry...? But men (middle aged) are 3 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than women.
In 2019, there were 6721 deaths (the capacity of 14 A380s) by suicide in the UK, showing suicide accounts for 3 times more deaths than road accidents.
Assuming it takes you 6 minutes to read this article, as you finish reading there will be 9 people who ended their pain...
Where do thoughts of suicide come from? As we know, an aviation mishap is a result of a chain of events (Think of the Swiss Cheese Model). Likewise, “Suicide is a rarely the result of a single event or factor, but can be understood as a complex interplay of biological, psychological and environmental factors that leave a person feeling desperate and hopeless about life”
Biological factors: such as being a middle-aged male increases the vulnerability to suicidal thoughts than female.
Psychological factors: such as depression.
Past History: such as having an abusive relationship history.
Current life events: such as having family issues and redundancy, or both.
How can we save lives with a simple three-step conversation?
Recognise and ask
Signpost & Support
Recognise and ask: It is possible to recognise that one person amongst 20 might be having suicidal thoughts. If we carefully look into traits, such as personality change, sudden lifting mood, weight change, you can infer this person might be dealing with some difficult emotions. The majority of people just do not want to die, they just need permission to be listened to and understood, with confidentiality. It is important to be able to catch those signals to give them direction and support (not advice). Tell them what you have noticed and ask clearly and directly as it is concerning the biggest decision in their life. For instance, if some is not taking care of her or himself without eating, we may ask “I have noticed that you’ve not been eating recently, are you thinking of ending your life?” By asking this we can bring them some hope by providing a supportive barrier if the answer was “Yes”. If the person feels safe, she or he will agree to put their decision on hold.
Only if we listen, will they trust and listen to us. Therefore, listening is the most important element. This intervention only requires time (less than an hour) to listen to the person in pain with undivided attention, without judgment and with empathy. If we feel uncomfortable, remember, it is not about us. We need to show them that living and dying are not the only options, safety is also an option. Then we can facilitate a safe plan to connect them to help, professional or other.
Signposting and Support:
Once the person has agreed to put their decision on hold, we can run through the following checklist together, to identify the background and connect them to get suitable help. We are doing only first aid here until we get the person professional help. We do it through working in partnership, where we may need help to ourselves as well. We can hand the person to professionals or we may have to remain as one of their supports. For immediate safety, ask the person to...
Summarise what will happen now
Prioritise the next steps
Write down the next steps, if that would help
Help them make all necessary connections, such as plan and make calls for appointments, store helpline numbers in their phone (111 for NHS, 116123 Samaritans etc). For future safety, it’s important to identify people thinking about suicide, which could be anyone. Although we do not know when our industry is going to recover, we know we are all human. Therefore, we need to look after each other. Whenever we get that sense of abnormality, just like in the flight deck, please have the courage to assess, ask clearly and directly. Because that conversation may help you to stop a suicide plan and save a life.
Finally, let me ask these two questions from you and invite you to ask them to others more often,
How are you doing…?
How is your family / friend / colleague doing…?
Hishan is an A320 First Officer, Mental Health First Aider and also one of our great mentors here at Resilient Pilot. If you or someone you know has been affected by this topic please do get in touch and we can help signpost you to relevant support. We are here for you.