Suicide: It’s too big a deal not to talk about it

Suicide is never an easy subject to tackle with many afraid to bring the subject up seeing it as ugly and uncomfortable. However, when 5,821 people in the UK committed suicide and tens of thousands more attempted suicide in 2017 alone, it’s a subject that needs to be spoken about more often and more openly.

Talking about suicide will not exacerbate the problem. Instead, creating a space in which someone with suicidal thoughts can honestly air their thoughts and feelings, could be one of the most helpful things someone can do.

Opening up a dialogue around mental health, suicide, thoughts and feelings is important and shouldn’t be avoided whether loved ones are in crisis or not. It may just save a life.

Did you know?

  • In the UK, men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women, with male suicides accounting for three quarters of the 2017 figure (4,382).
  • Suicide accounts for more deaths than road traffic accidents, particularly in those aged under 35 years.
  • One person in every fifteen will have made a suicide attempt at some point in their life.

Look out for the warning signs

There is no one reason why someone chooses to die by suicide, but mental health problems, alcohol and substance misuse, and feeling desperate, helpless or hopeless, are often the biggest of influencers.

A suicidal person may be in so much pain that they can see no other option than to make it all stop by taking their own life. Most suicidal people are searching for another way to make their suffering go away but haven’t been able to find one on their own.

Only half of all people who commit suicide have ever been in contact with specialist mental health services. Most people who attempt suicide or die by suicide have not reached out to a healthcare service in the month before their attempt or death.

But that does not mean they haven’t been talking about it in other ways and giving some sort of clue or warning. Statements such as ‘You’ll be sorry when I’m gone,’ ‘I can’t see any way out,’ ‘You’d be better off without me,’ or further talking about dying, being a burden to others, and deeper meant goodbyes to loved ones, are just some of the verbal signs that someone may be considering taking their own life.

It’s not always obvious to spot if someone is suicidal but other warning signs may include sudden changes in behaviour such as becoming anxious, confrontational, taking unnecessary risks, sleeping too much or too little, preferring to not be around other people, saying negative things about themselves, giving away their possessions, or even a sudden appearance of being overly happy after a period of depression.

Tackling the subject

The most effective way of finding out if someone is struggling with thoughts of suicide is to ask. It is perfectly OK to ask things like ‘Are you having suicidal thoughts?’ It’s important to be direct and ask open ended questions to someone thought to be at risk or struggling.

Really listen to what they are saying. Stay calm. Accept that it will be an uncomfortable conversation. Avoid the urge to fill silences, instead let them be the space needed for loved ones to get their thoughts in order and speak openly. Try to not make assumptions about why they may be feeling the way they do or force ideas and opinions of what will help them. Encourage them to talk honestly without judgement, let them know they are loved, that you are there for them and will help them to seek the help they need.

Getting help

There are many online resources for people with suicidal thoughts and feelings:

And resources for those supporting someone who may be having suicidal thoughts and feelings:

If you are feeling like you want to die

If you are feeling like you want to die, it’s important to speak someone about it. Help and support is available right now. You don’t have to struggle with these feelings alone.

Talk to someone you trust. Let friends and family know the way you are feeling and what’s going on in your thoughts. They may be able to offer support and help keep you safe.

If you are alone:

  • Call your GP and ask for an emergency appointment
  • Call 111 who can help you find the support and help you need
  • Phone a helpline:
    • Samaritans (for everyone, 24hrs): call 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

    • Childline (for children and young people under 19 years, 24hrs): call 0800 1111

    • Papyrus (for those under 35 years, 10am to 10pm Mon-Fri, 2pm to 10pm weekends, 2pm to 5pm bank holidays): call 0800 068 41 41, text 07786 209697, or email pat@papyrus-uk.org

    • CALM (for men, 5pm to midnight every day): 0800 58 58 58

    • The Silver Line (for those 55 years and over, 24hrs): call 0800 4 70 80 90

If your life is in danger and you have seriously harmed yourself, call 999 for an ambulance or go straight to A&E, or ask someone else to call 999 or to take you to A&E.

Take away

Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with someone you think may be having suicidal thoughts. You don’t have to be an expert, you just need to listen, ask open questions, give them the space to talk about their thoughts and feelings, show you care and make sure they know where they can get help from, if they don’t, offer to find out with them and follow through on any offer of help you give.