Suicide prevention: how you can make a difference

10th Sep 2020
Prevention resources and tools
Antonis Kousoulis

Dr Antonis Kousoulis

Former Director of England and Wales

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This content mentions suicide or suicidal thoughts. Please read with care. There are details of where to find help at the bottom of this page.

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.

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.

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.

If you are feeling like ending your life or feel unable to keep yourself safe, 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. If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.

Related content

Suicide prevention

There are things we can all do in situations where we are worried about someone who we think may be at risk of suicide. Talking can really make a difference.

Taylor's story: raising awareness after my brother took his own life

My name is Taylor Kane McLaughlin and, since 21 November 2017, I have been doing everything I can to get my life back on track.

Suicidal thoughts

Suicidal feelings can be confusing, frightening and complicated. They can range from having general thoughts about not wanting to be here to making a plan about how and when you could end your life. You might feel less like you want to die, and more that you want the pain to stop.

Men and mental health

As with many mental health statistics, it’s hard to know if the figures really represent what is happening. They can only tell us about mental health problems that have been reported – many cases may go undiagnosed.

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