A frank look at suicide: the statistics, the myths and the actions we can all take

  Back to articles A frank look at suicide: the statistics, the myths and the actions we can all take

It is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Internationally, it is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. Every minute, someone dies from it and another twenty lives are threatened. In almost every case, death is preventable.

For many, suicide is not about wanting to die, but about wanting to stop living. If a middle-of-the road option were available, an option to take a step away from life, but continue living, most would take it. Sadly increasing numbers of us see no other choice, and around 800,000 take their lives each year.

Suicide is a complex issue, can be the result of a very wide range of conditions and, in many countries is still stigmatised, meaning cries for help can have serious legal implications. As a result of this, global data available on suicide and suicide attempts is sketchy at best. Even in the UK, suicide was considered a crime until as recently as 1961. To date, only a few countries have included suicide prevention among their health priorities and only 38 countries report having a national suicide prevention strategy.

Contrary to popular myth, talking about suicide doesn’t encourage it. In fact, the opposite is true - open discussion is one of the most helpful things you can do. The more aware we are, the more we talk about it and the less we stigmatise mental health, the higher the chance we have of reducing suicide in our communities.

Another myth is that people who talk about suicide often don’t do it, or that people who die by suicide show little or no outward sign before the event. In truth, there are usually warning signs, and the best way to prevent suicide is to recognise these signs and know how to respond if you spot them.

Signs include talking about suicide or about harming or killing oneself. Online searches for related content, writing about death or dying or seeking out objects or tools with which to cause self harm, such as weapons or drugs. If there is a history of depression, drug or alcohol dependence, or a family history of either, these signals are even more dangerous. Hopelessness is another danger sign, whereby the suicidal person may not see past a bleak future or feel that life is currently unbearable.

According to HelpGuide, significant signs to watch out for include:

Talking about suicide – Any talk about suicide, dying, or self-harm, such as “I wish I hadn’t been born,” “If I see you again…” and “I’d be better off dead.”

Seeking out lethal means – Seeking access to guns, pills, knives, or other objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.

Preoccupation with death – Unusual focus on death, dying, or violence. Writing poems or stories about death.

No hope for the future – Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and being trapped (“There’s no way out”). Belief that things will never get better or change.

Self-loathing, self-hatred – Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Feeling like a burden (“Everyone would be better off without me”).

Getting affairs in order – Making out a will. Giving away prized possessions. Making arrangements for family members.

Saying goodbye – Unusual or unexpected visits or calls to family and friends. Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.

Withdrawing from others – Withdrawing from friends and family. Increasing social isolation.

Desire to be left alone.

Self-destructive behaviour – Increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving, unsafe sex. Taking unnecessary risks as if they have a “death wish.”

Sudden sense of calm – A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed can mean that the person has made a decision to attempt suicide.

If you suspect anyone of showing signs of interest in suicide or self-harm, it’s important to get them help. The sooner the better. Although talking may be difficult, you can’t make someone suicidal by showing you care. So ask, and listen. Giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings, and may prevent a suicide attempt.

With limited government resources, but a growing need for suicide help, The Better Company has launched the Better Stop Suicide app aimed at those who are experiencing or have experienced suicidal thoughts. Designed to help sufferers work through their suicidal thoughts, the innovative and life-saving app equips users with the trigger to stop and think, to revisit personal affirmations and to find a calm place for rational reflection. It is also a portal to direct professional help, guidance and proven psychological techniques to prevent suicide.