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What is Suicide
Suicide is when someone ends their own life. It’s a very tragic response to difficult situations and feelings, perhaps most tragic because it is preventable. Thousands of people in the UK end their lives by suicide each year and one in five of us think about suicide in our lifetimes.
Having suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean that someone has a mental illness, but there is a connection between mental ill health and suicidal thoughts.
Suicidal thoughts and feelings can be complex, frightening, confusing and lonely.
There is no single reason for why people die by suicide. Social, psychological and cultural factors can contribute to a person being at greater risk of suicide.
Learning about the possible risk factors linked to suicidal thoughts, along with how it can be prevented, may help you save a life. This may be someone else’s, or it may be your own life.
There is no single reason why people die by suicide. People think of suicide for many different reasons. Sociological, economical, psychological and genetic factors can contribute to a person being at greater risk of suicide.
A risk factor might include:
- difficult life events, such as a traumatic childhood or experiencing
physical or emotional abuse,
- something upsetting or life changing such as a relationship ending
or a loved one dying,
- misusing drugs or alcohol,
- living alone or having little social contact with other people,
- having a mental health condition such as depression
- having a physical health condition, especially if this causes chronic pain or
- problems with work or money,
- being a young person, or
- being a middle-aged man
Gender and suicide risk
Men are at greater risk of suicide than women. While suicide rates vary across the UK, men have accounted for more deaths by suicide than women in each nation.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) state that men represent three-quarters of UK suicides. Which has been consistent since the mid-1990s.
Women most at risk of suicide are between the ages of 50-54 with the data showing 7.4 deaths per 100,000 people. Although suicide has been the leading cause of death for both males and females aged 20-34 for a few decades, overall, there have been a low number of deaths among people under 25.
However, rates of suicide for the under 25s has increased in recent years for both males and females, particularly in females. The rate of suicide in under 25 women has increased by 94% since 2012. A record high for England and Wales. Even with the recent increase in female suicide for the under 25’s, men in the same age group have more recorded suicides.
It’s only partially understood why men are more likely to die by suicide than women. Research carried out by Samaritans found that:
- Men tend to choose more lethal methods compared to women
- Social expectations of masculinity may mean that men are less likely to seek help for suicidal thoughts compared to women
- Men are significantly more affected by relationship breakdowns compared to women
An under-researched area is suicide among transgender and non-binary people. According to the LGBTQIA+ charity Stonewall, almost half of trans people, 46%, have thought about taking their life in the last year.
Trans and non-binary people have to deal with specific risk factors as a minority community, such as stigma, prejudice and discrimination. Their experiences challenge current assumptions in our understanding of gender influencing suicide risk.
Fact: Talking about suicide won’t make somebody’s suicidal thoughts worse or make them more likely to harm themself. Starting a conversation about suicidal thoughts can help with suicide prevention by creating a safe space for them to talk about how they are feeling. You may also use this conversation as an opportunity to explore support options, such as professional support.
Fact: While suicide is a serious public health problem, a lot can be done to prevent it with timely support
Fact: Talking about suicide can be a plea for help. Don’t assume that someone wont attempt to take their own life if they talk about suicide. Always take suicidal feelings seriously.
Fact: One in five people have thought about suicide at some point in their life. Not all people who die by suicide have a mental health condition. Though people living with a mental illness are generally more likely to feel suicidal, and make an attempt.
Fact: Suicide has not been illegal since 1961 in England and Wales. The use of the phrase ‘committed suicide’ is no longer appropriate and can add to the stigma around suicide. Suicide is a delicate topic and careful thought should be given to the language used. Avoid using language that causes distress to bereaved family and friends, or that glorifies or sensationalises suicide. Think about using phrases such as ‘taken their life’ or ‘died by suicide’.
What to say to someone who may be at risk of suicide
If you think that someone may be feeling suicidal, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling.
You may feel uncomfortable talking about suicidal feelings. You may not know what to say. This is entirely normal and understandable.
It might help to:
- Let them know that you care about them and that they are not alone
- Empathise with them – you could say something like, “I can’t imagine how painful this is for you, but I would like to try to understand”
- Be non-judgemental and don’t criticise or blame them
- Repeat their words back to them in your own words – this shows that you are listening, and repeating information can also make sure that you’ve understood them properly
- Ask about their reasons for living and dying and listen to their answers – try to explore their reasons for living in more detail
- Ask if they have felt like this before and if so, ask how their feelings changed last time
- Reassure them that they will not feel this way forever
- Encourage them to focus on getting through the day rather than focussing on the future
- Ask them if they have a plan for ending their life and ask what the plan is
- Encourage them to seek help that they are comfortable with such as help from a doctor or counsellor, or support through a charity such as the Samaritans
- Follow up any commitments that you agree to
- Make sure someone is with them if they are in immediate danger
- Try to get professional help for the person feeling suicidal
- Get support for yourself
Remember that you don’t need to find an answer, or even to completely understand why they feel the way they do. Listening to what they have to say will at least let them know you care.
If you’re not sure that someone is feeling suicidal, ask:
- “Are you thinking about suicide?” or
- “Are you having thoughts of ending your life?”
These questions are direct. It is better to address the person’s feelings directly rather than avoiding the issue. Remember that asking about suicide won’t make it more likely to happen.
Warning signs that someone may be at risk of suicide
A change in someone’s personality and behaviour might be a sign that they are having suicidal thoughts. You may be the best judge of when someone you know is behaving differently.
Changes can include:
- Becoming anxious
- Being more irritable
- Being more confrontational
- Becoming quiet
- Having mood swings
- Acting recklessly
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Not wanting to be around other people
- Avoiding contact with friends and family
- Having different problems with work or studies
- Saying negative things about themselves
There are some indicators that suggest someone is more likely to attempt suicide. These include:
- Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
- Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide
- Thanking you, or saying sorry to you for no apparent reason
- Preparing to end their life, such as storing up medication
- Putting affairs in order such as giving away belongings or making a will
Signs that something is wrong can sometimes be more difficult to spot. Such as a cheeriness which may seem fake to you. Or they may joke about their emotions, such as saying something quite alarming that is disguised as a joke.
Don’t ignore your gut feeling if you are concerned about someone.
Some people won’t be open about how they are feeling.
A lot of people try to seek help before attempting suicide by telling other people about their feelings. This could be a professional, friend or family member. If someone tells you about how they are feeling don’t ignore them.
What to do if you are at risk of suicide
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek professional support.
- GP and ask for an emergency appointment
- Local urgent mental health helpline (numbers for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can be found here)
- Local NHS 111 service
Don’t make a decision today
You don’t need to act on your thoughts right now. Try to focus on just getting through today and not the rest of your life.
You may have had these thoughts before, but you feel less able to cope today. You might find that you are more able to cope in a few days.
Be aware of your triggers
Triggers are things which might make you feel worse. Triggers are different for different people. You may find that certain music, photos or films make you feel worse. Try to stay away from these.
Stay away from drugs and alcohol
Alcohol and drugs affect the way you think and feel. They can affect your judgement, concentration, behaviour and emotions. Substance use might make you more likely to act on suicidal thoughts.
Go to a safe place
Go to a place where you feel safe, such as a crisis café, a friends’ house or your garden.
Talk to other people
It could be helpful for you to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. There are different people who can help. You could speak to friends, family, your GP, emotional support line such as Samaritans, or emotional support texting service such as Shout.
Be around other people
You may find it too difficult to speak to anyone at the moment. That’s okay. But try not to spend too much time alone. You could go to a shopping centre, gym, coffee shop or park. Being around people can help to keep you safe, even if they don’t know how you’re feeling.
You might feel it is impossible not to focus on your suicidal thoughts or why you feel that way. If you focus on your thoughts, it might make them feel stronger and harder to cope with. Try doing things that you enjoy to distract you.
If you live in England:
If you live in Wales:
If you live in Scotland:
Support someone experiencing suicidal thoughts
It can be hard to know what to say and how to support somebody who is experiencing suicidal thoughts. This guide looks at why someone might think about suicide and how you can help them. It also looks at support for you.
Advice on coping with loss
Losing someone you care about to suicide is devastating. There is no right or wrong way to feel and everyone deals with loss in their own way. This guide looks at support available when someone has taken their own life.
Learn about how to talk about suicide at work
On Friday 24 September, we’re hosting a webinar with our partners at the Builders Merchants Federation and Rethink Mental Illness to promote the importance of suicide prevention and to give greater confidence to people on how to talk about the issue in any type of workplace.
Download our Conversation Guide
It can be hard to know just how to start a conversation about suicide. That’s why we’ve created this downloadable resource to support you in spotting the warning signs that someone might need help, broaching the topic and giving you tips on what you can do and where you can signpost to for further help. We also have a mobile-friendly and printer-friendly version available.
Losing someone to suicide has the potential to cause intense and complex emotions. Zany, who lost her close friend to suicide in 2017, tells us how it impacted her and how she channelled her pain into something positive.
Free suicide awareness training
Our friends at Zero Suicide Alliance offer free suicide awareness training. Scroll to Step 3 to access this 30-minute training and help us increase awareness and action to prevent suicide together.