World Suicide Prevention Day: Edinburgh funeral director who saved woman from jumping to her death urges people to seek help for mental health
Stewart Muir was stopped in his tracks when he spotted a woman sat by a bridge with her bag and shoes laid out neatly in a pile beside her.
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Mr Muir, a funeral director, is used to looking after people in distress and is also trained in saving lives, as a volunteer for the ambulance service.
But he said neither prepared him for what to do when he saw the woman stand up and attempt to jump to her death.
Mr Muir, 27, was driving in Edinburgh with a colleague from family-owned firm William Purves. After driving past the woman they quickly turned the car around.
By the time they pulled over she had one leg over the bridge. Mr Muir, whose sister died when he was just 16, was scared to approach but he knew he had to do what he could to help.
He said: “I dialled 999 and threw the phone at my colleague. For a split second I thought maybe it would be best not to approach in case I frightened or upset her. Another member of the public had stopped by then too. But it was obvious she wasn’t stopping.
"I ran over and got a hold of her. She begged me to let go. I will never forget, she looked me in the eyes and said please let me die. She was pushing at us. I pulled her back across to the ground, with the help of another few passers by.”
“At work I deal with people in some of the most difficult times. It’s the same with the first response, you never know what you are going into. The main thing is the ability to listen, understand and have empathy. People want someone there who really cares.”
"I kept talking and trying to reassure her. She collapsed into my arms after. She was so upset and I did my best to comfort her. I told her there is always someone there who can listen and help. She kept saying nobody cares."
"For a while after I was shaking. I went on to work but it really hit me after. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I still don’t know what happened next.”
A week prior to the incident Mr Muir was part of a conversation in the staff room on suicide, after a suicide funeral they had conducted.
The discussion included how to recognise the signs a person might leave behind before taking their life. One of the signs is that they might lay their belongings out at the spot they plan to attempt suicide.
On World Suicide Prevention day Mr Muir is urging people to seek help and wants to help raise awareness of the warning signs to look out for when a person is thinking of taking their life.
Mr Muir added: “For me finding that woman in a state where all she could see was to end it really made clear how important it is to talk about mental health. What would have happened that day, if we hadn’t had that talk at work just before.”
"I wonder where she is and if she got the help she needed. We need to feel we can talk about suicide.”
He knows first-hand the pain of losing loved ones and feels lucky to work in a job where he can support families through grief.
But he says after years of service funerals after suicides can still some of the most difficult to come to terms with.
“I lost a few members of family when I was younger. I struggled to cope with death of my sister, who was only twenty one when she passed away.”
“I was a teenager. It was hard for me. I saw how important it was to have someone independent being there to support the family.
“It’s satisfying in my job being able to give people the best send off. But suicides are some of the most heart breaking funerals to get through.
"It’s often sudden and families can be left with unanswered questions. It’s complicated. We saw more suicide funerals than usual earlier this year, quite a few in a short space of time. “
There were 805 suicides in Scotland 2020 – with two people taking their own life each day.
Research into the impact of the pandemic on mental health found a stark increase between June and September, when Covid restrictions had been eased – up by more than a quarter compared to the five year average for those months.
Edinburgh-base charity Health in Mind is encouraging people not to be afraid to ask about suicide.
Spokesperson Alana Genge said: "At Health in Mind, we believe that having positive conversations about mental health is a key step in suicide prevention. These important conversations can help raise awareness, build understanding, and remind people that they are not alone.
“The pandemic has impacted us all in different ways but one thing it has brought to light for most of us is the importance of taking care of our mental health.
“If you notice a change in someone, no matter how small, it is worthwhile asking them about it. You don't need to have the answers or solutions to any issues or for the way they are feeling. Simply being with them and listening without judgement shows that person that you care.
“If you are concerned that someone is considering suicide then ask them - it won't put the idea in their head if it wasn't there before - but it can be a relief for them and give them the space to open up and acknowledge their feelings.
“It's also important for you to remember that you should then talk to someone for your own support.”
Anyone can call the Samaritans helpline free, 365 days a year on 116 123
Evidence shows asking someone if they're suicidal can protect them. By asking someone directly about suicide, you give them permission to tell you how they feel, and let them know that they are not a burden.
People who have felt suicidal will often say what a huge relief it was to be able to talk about what they were experiencing.
Signs to look out for
Feeling restless and agitated
Feeling angry and aggressive
Being tired or lacking in energy
Not wanting to talk to or be with people
Not wanting to do things they usually enjoy
Using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings
Finding it hard to cope with everyday things
Not replying to messages or being distant
Talking about feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless
Talking about feeling trapped by life circumstances they can’t see a way out of, or feeling unable to escape their thoughts
A change in routine, such as sleeping or eating more or less than normal
Engaging in risk-taking behaviour, like gambling or violence
You might not always be able to spot these signs, especially as people start to physically self-isolate because of coronavirus. These emotions may be more difficult to spot if you're seeing less of the people you're close to.