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.

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 rates continued to rise, according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics. The 2019 rates for men were at their highest level since 2000. 

Men aged 45 to 49 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate; for females, the age group with the highest rate was 50 to 54 years.

Despite having a low number of deaths overall, rates among the under 25s have generally increased in recent years, particularly 10 to 24 year-old females where the rate has increased significantly since 2012 to its highest level in 2019.

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. 

Coronavirus, pandemics and suicide

Our own research shows significant numbers of people expressing suicidal thoughts as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This has been particularly high amongst a number of disadvantaged groups including young adults, people with pre-existing mental health concerns, single parents and unemployed people or those in insecure employment.

Any effective response to the pandemic and how we, as a society recover, needs to both tackle this disadvantage and prevent suicidal thoughts becoming deeds.

We need to talk about men

In 2019 three-quarters of suicides were men. It is not good enough to say that men don’t seek help; we need to ask why our support mechanisms are ineffective for, or inaccessible to, the group that needs them most. In the case of suicide prevention, this means men, and in particular men in their mid-late forties.

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 advice ‘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:

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. 
  • CALM: 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.

Getting help for my mental health and how to access support

Asking for help is not only brave, but also vital for either maintaining good mental health or recovering from and managing mental ill-health.

Read more