Suicide

Thousands of people in the UK end their lives by suicide each year.

More than 55,000 suicides occur in the European Union each year, including more than 6,000 in the UK and Ireland.1

That figure means there is one death by suicide every two hours - and many more people are thought to attempt suicide. Statistics show that suicide rates across Great Britain as a whole have decreased over the past three years, with 5,668 suicides occuring in 2016 across Great Britain. Scotland, however, saw a small increase in the past year to 728. See more suicide statistics.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34 years in the UK and it is considerably higher in men, with around three times as many men dying as a result of suicide compared to women. It is the leading cause of death for men under 50 in the UK. Those at highest risk are men aged between 40 and 44 years who have a rate of 23.7 deaths per 100,000 population.

One reason that men are more likely to complete suicide is because they are less likely than women to ask for help or talk about depressive or suicidal feelings.2 Recent statistics show that 72% of people who died by suicide between 2002 and 2012 had not been in contact with their GP or a health professional about these feelings in the year before their suicide.3

The statistics highlight that talking about suicide is still highly stigmatised. Talking about suicide and understanding it better is necessary to help prevent further suicides in the UK.

Risk Factors

Certain factors are known to be associated with increased risk of suicide. These include: 

  • drug and alcohol misuse
  • history of trauma or abuse
  • unemployment
  • social isolation
  • poverty
  • poor social conditions
  • imprisonment
  • violence
  • family breakdown.

People with a diagnosed mental health condition are shown to be at a higher risk of attempting and completing suicide,4 with more than 90% of suicides and suicide attempts having been found to be associated with a psychiatric disorder. The highest rates of suicide were associated with depressive disorders.

Previous suicide attempts and engagement in self-harming behaviours are also an indication of particular risk.5 Up to 16% of survivors try again within a year with 2% of repeat attempts being fatal.6

Prevention

Suicide is a final act of behaviour that is the result of a range of factors, difficulties and distress.7 For many people an attempt occurs after months of having thoughts and feelings about suicide.

Many factors might predict if someone is more at risk of feeling suicidal or of acting on these thoughts. The might include:8,9

  • feeling depressed, withdrawn and anxious
  • loss of interest in hobbies, work, socialising or even in their appearance
  • expressing feelings of hopelessness or purposelessness
  • acting impulsively or in a reckless way and not caring what happens to them
  • giving away posessions, sorting out their affairs or making a will
  • talking about suicide, death or dying or wanting it all to end
  • many people will express their thoughts of wanting to die or end it all in the year before the act to relatives, partners, peers or professionals.

If you notice these signs or feel that you someone you know is at risk of taking their own life, these signs can offer potential opportunities to intervene and save lives.

While self-harm is not directly related to suicide there is research to suggest that individuals who self-harm are more at risk of attempting or completing suicide.10,11

Three-quarters of all people who end their own lives are not in contact with mental health services.12 If appropriate and timely help and emotional support is offered to people who are experiencing deep unhappiness and distress, this can reduce the risk of them choosing to end their own life.

While there is work needed to prevent suicide within our society, there are ways that professionals and individuals can help. Prevention of suicide is not the exclusive responsibility of any one sector of society. Schools can create cultures in which young people feel it is healthy to talk through emotional and other difficulties.

Prevention programmes in schools are increasing in effectiveness and showing positive results.13 General practicioners can restrict the number of tablets prescribed to those at risk of overdose. Accident and emergency staff can ensure anyone who has attempted suicide receives a specialist mental health assessment.

Each of us can play close attention to the overall mental health of our loved ones. An empathic approach and being open to understanding suicide and suicidal ideation, talking about it is important to help those at risk know it is okay for them to share.

Help and support

If you are feeling suicidal, please call 999 or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team (CRT). CRTs are teams of mental health care professionals, such as psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses, who work with people expreriencing severe psychological and emotional distress.14

There is help and support available

Samaritans offer a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week support service. Call them FREE on 116 123. You can also email jo@samaritans.org.

Papyrus is a dedicated service for young 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, you can text 07786 209697 or email pat@papyrus-uk.org.

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 issues they are feeling. Call 0800 58 58 58.

Recovery from a suicide attempt

The attitudes we hold toward people who attempt to take their lives can influence the course of their condition. The isolation that suicidal people feel can be reinforced by a judgmental approach in which their behaviour is viewed as manipulative or selfish. By stepping beyond our personal assumptions, and showing care and respect for the people behind the behaviours, we can help them share their feelings and help prevent suicides.

U Can Cope film

In 2012, a number of charities and organisations including the Mental Health Foundation collaborated in the production of the 'U Can Cope' film which was made to raise awareness and provide help and support on World Suicide Prevention Day.  The film aims to spread the message that it is possible to overcome suicidal thoughts and feelings and that there are many resources available to help those who are struggling to cope.

References

1Facts About Suicide. (2015). International Association for Suicide Prevention. [online] Available at: https://www.iasp.info/ [Accessed 9 Sep. 2015].

2Wylie, C. et al. (2012). ‘Men, Suicide and Society.’ Samaritans Research Report.

3Hewlett, E. & Horner, K. (2015). Mental Health Analysis Profiles: OECD Working Paper No. 81. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/publicdisplaydocumentpdf/?cote=DELSA/HEA/WD/HWP(2015)4&docLanguage=En [Accessed on 19/01/16].

4Hawton, K., Houston, K., Haw, C., Townsend, E. & Harriss, L. (2003). Comorbidity of Axis I and Axis II Disorders in Patients who attempted Suicide. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 160 (8), 1494-1500.

5Klonsky, E.D., May, A.M. & Glenn, C.R. (3013). The relationship between nonsuicidal self-injury and attempted suicide: Converging evidence from four samples. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 122 (1), 231-237.

6Cornaggia, C., Beghi, M., Rosenbaum, J. and Cerri, C. (2013). Risk factors for fatal and nonfatal repetition of suicide attempts: a literature review. Neuropsychiatric Disease Treatment, 9, pp.1725-1735.

7Gviom, Y. & Apter, A. (2012). Suicide and Suicidal Behavior. Public Health Reviews, 34 (2), 1-20.

8American Association of Suicidology. ‘Know the Warning Signs of Suicide.’ Available at: http://www.suicidology.org/resources/warning-signs [Accessed on 05/02/16].

9NHS Choices. ‘Suicide – Warning signs.’ Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Suicide/Pages/warning-signs.aspx [Accessed on 05/02/16].

10Klonsky, D.E., May, A.M. & Glenn, C.R. (2013). The relationship between nonsuicidal self-injury and attempted suicide: Converging evidence from four samples. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 122 (1), 231-237.

11Bergen, H., Hawton, K., Waters, K., Ness, J., Cooper, J., Steeg, S. & Navneet, K. (2012). How do methods of non-fatal self-harm relate to eventual suicide? Journal of Affective Disorders, 136 (3), 526-533.

12Hewlett, E. & Horner, K. (2015). Mental Health Analysis Profiles: OECD Working Paper No. 81. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/publicdisplaydocumentpdf/?cote=DELSA/HEA/WD/HWP(2015)4&docLanguage=En [Accessed on 19/01/16].

13Katz, C. et al. (2013). A systematic review of school-based suicide prevention programs. Depression and Anxiety, 30 (10), 1030-1045.

14NHS Choices. ‘Suicide – Warning signs.’ Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Suicide/Pages/warning-signs.aspx [Accessed on 05/02/16].