There seems no better time to write this. Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and its theme is to connect, communicate, and care.
While we live in an increasingly digital world of ‘friends”, we rarely have real time to sit down and connect – face-to-face – on a heart level, with other humans; family, friends, other surfers and perhaps, most importantly, strangers– a friend we are yet to know.
Suicide is still a taboo subject in many cultures and is stigmatized to the point where a depressed person does still not feel comfortable to reach out for help from their friends. Early intervention – seeing the signs and listening to a person considering suicide – in the majority of cases, can and does make people reconsider their life situation if handled sensitively.
Just this week, two high-profile surfing figures have ended their life by suicide. Unnecessarily. I believe it is up to each and every one of us to pause and reflect on what we can do to help others, whether they’re surfers or non-surfers.
The passing this week of WSL Head of Security, David ‘Woody’ Wood calls for our collective attention and gives rise to a call for action. A man, father of four, well known and respected globally, lost his battle.
While Woody was not a close friend of mine, like many across the surfing world, he was someone we all liked as a genuine helper of others. I chatted with him many times over many years, mostly alongside our mutual mate, Kelly Slater.
He, like many, including Andy Irons, seemed to have everything going for them but decided to leave the surfing stage before the end of their natural lives.
People suffering from depression, the Black Dog, become convincing actors who often go to extraordinary lengths to cover up their emotional plight. A smiling face does not guarantee a person is happy deep within.
It’s been said that surfing has more mental health issues and casualties than we are led to believe or are prepared to face up to. I have this seen first-hand and through my own life experience.
There are around ten tell-tale indicator signs of suicidal ideation we should all get acquainted with. If we can be perceptive and caring enough, we can use those signs to possibly save a life.
Most sporting codes and industry sectors have mental health support services available to their fraternity. Surfing lacks such a resource. Now is the time for surfing to act; be it on the Dream Tour or at your local beach or board riding club.
Firstly, I would call on the WSL and the Commissioners to introduce a qualified Counsellor or non-denominational Chaplain to be at hand for help with confidential support 24/7 and provide all surfers with the tools to help others and themselves.
Secondly, I would call on all surfers to investigate the resources available online in order to equip them to help those in need and to have the help-line telephone numbers on hand, which are available in most countries at no cost.
Sometimes, it’s not until you have lost a friend or loved one to suicide that we understand and appreciate that suicide is preventable, so I’m asking all surfers to do three things: know the signs, find the words, and finally, reach out.
Together we have the power to make a difference, the power to save a life. It affects all of us.