Suicide prevention: how you can make a difference

Practical suggestions about how you can support others, and get help for yourself, are towards the end of this blog.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and an important reminder that everyone can make a difference to others who have reached the point of wanting to end their lives. 

The need for suicide prevention is at least as great as ever. In the UK, the suicide rate appears to have risen for the first time since 2013, according to new figures from the Office of National Statistics. 

Men in their late forties are at especially high risk of taking their own lives and women in this age group are also at relatively high risk. 

Suicides among young people are far fewer – but the latest statistics show a troubling increase in recent years. Among 10-to-24-year-old girls and women in particular, there has been an especially sharp rise in the number taking their own lives.

So what is going on – and what can change things for the better?

Rise in suicides likely to be linked to austerity – but the story behind each suicide is complex

The Mental Health Foundation is concerned but not surprised by the latest UK suicide figures. They are in line with other evidence of the distress people are feeling, such as rates of self-harm and self-reported feelings of shame.

Some of the rise in the number of suicides may be due to a change in the rules in England and Wales about how coroners should record suicides. However, it is currently too soon to know what difference the change has made.

Whenever a person takes their own life, there is a complex story behind it.

There is also not a single simple explanation for the increase in the number of people taking their own lives, but it is likely to be linked with economic austerity. We know that suicide rates are linked with people’s uncertainty about their financial futures, unemployment, persistent inequality, loneliness, discrimination and ill-health. 

Domestic abuse, pornography and unrealistic body ideals can increase suicide risk of young women

Among young women, again the explanation is not simple but we need to be prepared to talk about uncomfortable social problems. ‎Some of the problems driving the increase in suicides may be violence, trauma and domestic abuse, along with the relentless pressures imposed by online culture, social media and pornography.

For example, companies’ use of pictures of ideal and unrealistic bodies in advertising for their products appears to be causing a surge of anxiety and shame among young women, who are left feeling their own bodies and selves can never be good enough. 

Such feelings lead some towards self-harm, eating disorders and other serious mental health problems. 

Prevention is needed now, more than ever

Investing more in NHS mental health services will help some people – but is not nearly enough in itself to reduce the number of people ending their own lives. 

Suicide prevention should start long before people end up in crisis, to minimise the distress that people experience before they get effective help, which for many will never be there.

Prevention must happen in schools, in workplaces, in support for families, in local community organisations and in GPs’ surgeries.

WAIT – how you can help

Prevention is also something that we can all individually help with. A short conversation with another person can sometimes be enough to make the difference between life and death for them.

The acronym ‘WAIT’ is one good way to remember how you can support another person who may be suicidal. It stands for: 

Watch out for signs of distress and uncharacteristic behaviour

  •  e.g. social withdrawal, excessive quietness, irritability, uncharacteristic outburst, talking about death or suicide

Ask “are you having suicidal thoughts?”

  • Asking about suicide does not encourage it, nor does it lead a person to start thinking about it; in fact it may help prevent it, and can start a potentially life-saving conversation

It will pass – assure your loved one that, with help, their suicidal feelings will pass with time

Talk to others – encourage your loved one to seek help from a GP or health professional

You may wish to share the graphic below, which summarises our suicide prevention advice:

Don’t forget to look after your own wellbeing after having a difficult conversation. You can call Samaritans for free, at any time (24/7) on 116 123. They are there to listen to you. You can also email [email protected]

Seek help for yourself

If you yourself are feeling like ending your life, please call 999 or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team. These are teams of mental health care professionals who work with people in severe distress.

Other sources of help include:

  • Samaritans offer a 24-hours a day, 7 days a week support service. Call them FREE on 116 123. You can also email [email protected]
  • Papyrus is a dedicated service for people up to the age of 35 who are worried about how they are feeling or anyone concerned about a young person. You can call the HOPElineUK number on 0800 068 4141, text 07786 209697 or email [email protected]
  • NHS Choices: 24-hour national helpline providing health advice and information. Call them free on 111. 
  • C.A.L.M.: National helpline for men to talk about any troubles they are feeling. Call 0800 58 58 58.
  • Support After Suicide Partnership offers practical and emotional support on their website for people bereaved and affected by suicide.

Join the movement

World Mental Health Day takes place on 10 Oct, 2019 on the topic of suicide prevention. We are asking people across the UK to support this campaign by wearing a green ribbon, which is the international symbol for mental health awareness. The green ribbon can be worn to begin much-needed conversations, let people know they are not alone, and in memory of a loved one.

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