The Shocking Statistics
According to the World Health Organisation, one person dies from suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world and every death is a tragedy for family, friends, colleagues and for society as a whole. In the UK, the number of deaths rose by nearly 12% in 2018 on the previous year, to just over 6500 suicides, over 5000 of whom were men. In fact suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. On top of that there were thousands of attempted suicides, which can also have a devastating and lasting effect on individuals and communities.
Clearly this is a growing problem that needs to be addressed and each one of us can help.
Why do people take their own lives?
Psychological behaviour is complex and there is no one reason for someone choosing to end their life, but there are some common elements. Suicide is not a selfish act. People who make the decision to end their time on earth one the whole do not do so through weakness or malicious motivation. Overwhelmingly people who have survived their attempts report that they were unable to think about anything other than the tremendous pain they were in and could only see one way of escaping that pain. However, most also say that they are glad that their attempt was unsuccessful and that the pain (even if temporarily) does pass and they do experience periods of hope. Risk factors for suicide include;
- long term complex mental health conditions or a family history of suicide
- sudden trauma or bereavement, relationship breakdown, social isolation or lack of support
- personal conflict, bullying, discrimination or guilt
- basic human needs such as shelter, food and warmth are not being met
- chronic pain or terminal diagnosis
- financial or social loss
- social vulnerability which as resulted in continued difficult circumstances with a lack of support
What all of these risk factors have in common is that the sufferer is unable to see any hope of their situation improving
What should we be doing as a society to address suicide rates?
Identifying and supporting high risk groups such as the homeless, people with a history of self-harm of abuse, those in the criminal justice system, the physically and mentally ill with an approach tailored to the individual with sufficient monitoring
Providing better support and education for those affected by suicide and the general population, including information on how to identify and support someone believed to be at risk
Reducing the means to suicide, such as improving barriers on railways and underground stations, prison controls, access to drugs and alcolhol for those at risk
Encouraging a sensitive approach to the problem in the media and workplaces, including reducing the stigma of mental health so that people are less reluctant to seek support and help
Each of us choosing not to ignore signs of mental struggle in loved ones, colleagues and the community as a whole, instead adopting an open approach and listening ear.
Increasing funding in mental health services, including psychological training, counselling provision and research
Make it 'normal' for everyone to be able to open up about their feelings. Terms such as 'snowflake' are not helpful and can lead to social isolation.
How to potentially save a life
- Be aware of the signs! If anyone demonstrates any of the following signs, it could indicate that they are at risk:
- Self-loathing, self-hatred and an absence of hope when talking about the future
- Self-destructive or self-harming behaviour and taking unnecessary potentially fatal risks
- A preoccupation with death and talking about ways of dying or seeking out the means to die
- Withdrawing from others or saying goodbye and putting ones affairs in order. This is often accompanied by a sense of calm and resignation to what is going to happen
If you are worried YOU SHOULD:
- Encourage them to talk about their feelings, actively listening in a patient, calm and non-judgemental way.
- Let them vent, get angry or cry whilst remaining calm and reassuring
- Offer hope and support without dismissing their feelings or belittling the extend of the problem
- Empathise and sympathise without reinforcing how bad their situation is
- Tell them that they are doing the right thing by talking and offer to be there for them
- Reassure them that however hopeless things may seem now, things will get better and let them know how important they are to you
NEVER argue with them or tell them to stop being stupid
NEVER tell them that they are selfish and they would be hurting their family or lecture them on the ethics of suicide
NEVER promise confidentiality or be sworn to secrecy. If a life is at stake, you may need to call emergency services, a responsible adult or mental health professional in order to save their life and if you have to break your word, you will lose their trust
NEVER offer practical solutions to their problems. It's not about how to fix the problem, it's about how to fix how they feel about the problem
How to assess the level of risk
Low - Some suicidal thoughts but no plan, no means to carry out and they say that they are not going to do it
Moderate - Suicidal thoughts with a vague or non-fatal plan but no means to carry out and they say they are not going to do it
High - Suicidal thoughts and specific fatal plan with means to carry out but says they are not going to do it. May or may not have attempted it
Severe - Suicidal thoughts and specific fatal plan, means to carry out and says that they will do it or have attempted it
Myths about Suicide
MYTH - People who talk about it won't really do it
FACT - Almost everyone who attempts suicide has at some point talked about it in a direct or indirect way, even jokingly and demonstrates some of the other risk factors
MYTH - Anyone who attempts suicide must have a mental health condition
FACT - Some people do have such conditions but most are just experiencing extreme but temporary distress and pain
MYTH - If a person is determined to do it, nothing can stop them
FACT - Most people who attempt suicide don't want to die, they just want their pain or distress to stop and they see death as the only solution. The impulse to die is often temporary and if someone can be kept talking until the pain subsides long enough for them to have second thoughts, they may change their mind
MYTH - People attempt suicide because they can't or won't seek help
FACT - Most people who attempt suicide have sought help in the previous 6 months
MYTH - Talking about suicide gives someone the idea to do it
FACT - The opposite it true. Talking about suicide as something they may have considered demonstrates empathy and an understanding of how they feel and acknowledging the seriousness of their distress is one of the most helpful things you can do.
Create a Personal Safety Plan
Taking a good look at some of the things that tend to help and make you feel better when you are struggling with life, can be a good way of preparing for your next difficult episode. In the same way that we sometimes plan and prepare for the worst like taking out an insurance policy or making a will, perhaps we should all consider making a personal safety plan. This will help us all not only to identify where our support networks are, but also to make a visual record that is easy to use when we are not thinking quite as clearly as when we are mentally well.
For an example of what to include, click here.
If you feel unqualified to support someone whom you feel is at risk, escalate to someone with more experience. This may be a manager, mental health professional or friend with experience.
If it is not a crisis situation, suggest they seek counselling support with a qualified professional. CCC offers subsidised counselling support to anyone who may not be able to afford a private counselling experience or cannot wait for a GP referral. Call CCC on one of the numbers below and leave a voice message, or book at session using the form on the Individuals page of this website.
If it is a crisis situation and someone is high or severe risk, call the Samaritans on 116123.
Supporting someone in distress can in itself be distressing, particularly if you are supporting someone close to you or someone for whom you feel responsible. Therefore, you need to ensure you also get the support you need. Counselling support would be helpful to understanding how the experience has affected you and how to build your resilience so that you can support them better and ensure there are no detrimental effects to you.
CCC Contact numbers
Cambridge - 01223 233047 - Peterborough 01733 553166