If you or someone you know has been contemplating suicide, here’s what to do.
Suicide is the act of intentionally bringing about one’s own death, and it’s more common than you might realise: every 90 minutes someone dies by suicide in the UK. While suicidal thoughts and feelings can affect anyone at any time, regardless of your age, background, or gender, it’s more common among some groups than others.
Approximately three out of every four suicide deaths are men, and it’s the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the country. Unfortunately, the male suicide rate continues to rise, having reached a two-decade high in England and Wales in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
If you or someone you know is exhibiting suicidal thoughts and behaviours, you should seek immediate help from a doctor or crisis line. If you or someone you know has taken harmful actions, call 999 and ask for an ambulance or go straight to your nearest A&E.
Suicidal thoughts and feelings
Many people experience thoughts of suicide at some point during their life. You might feel unable to cope, or like you cannot go on living the life you have. According to the mental heath charity Mind, it’s also common to think or feel any of the following:
- Hopeless, like there is no point in living
- Tearful and overwhelmed by negative thoughts
- Unbearable pain that you can’t imagine ending
- Useless, not wanted or not needed by others
- Desperate, as if you have no other choice
- Like everyone would be better off without you
- Cut off from your body or physically numb
- Fascinated by death
It’s important to know that whatever you are going through, thinking about suicide does not mean that you will lose control or act on these thoughts. Nor does it mean there is something wrong with you – it’s just a sign that you are experiencing more trauma, sadness or pain than you can currently cope with.
Suicide warning signs
Suicidal thoughts and feelings can affect anyone at any time, regardless of your age, gender, or background, says Harper. While it can be incredibly difficult to identify whether someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, there are some red flags to watch out for.
Suicidal thoughts and feelings can affect anyone at any time, regardless of your age, gender, or background.
‘If someone may be feeling suicidal, you might notice a change in their behaviour,’ Harper says. ‘They may withdraw away and avoid contact from their loved ones, experience changes to their mood, and become anxious. You might notice that they’re acting recklessly and saying negative things about themselves, too. Becoming more confrontational or quiet, and sleeping too much or too little are other possible signs.’
Further warning signs that someone may be thinking about attempting suicide include:
- Talking about feeling hopeless, trapped, or alone
- Saying they have no reason to go on living
- A lack of desire to take care of themselves
- Making a will or giving away their personal possessions
- A change in appetite, resulting in significant weight gain or loss
- Expressing anger or intentions to seek revenge
- Talking about suicide as a solution to their problems
‘All of these are warning signs that someone is experiencing problems with their mental health, so it’s important to always support your loved one through these difficult times,’ says Harper.
While more than one in 20 people will make a suicide attempt at some point in their lives, all suicides are preventable with timely interventions.
Suicide risk factors
Does anything increase the risk of suicide? Suicide does not have one single cause, but there are certain factors that can make some people more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts than others. While the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous attempt, only a small proportion of those who attempt suicide and survive will go on to die by suicide at a later date, the Samaritans state.
‘There are lots of reasons why someone may be experiencing suicidal feelings, for example if there’s been a big change in your life, you’ve struggled with a low mood for a few weeks or you’ve lost someone close to you,’ says Harper. Other key risk factors include:
- Having a mental healthdisorder
- Unemployment or low job satisfaction
- Being diagnosed with a serious illness
- Living with a chronic illness
- History of being abused or witnessing abuse
- Being bullied or socially isolated
- Family history of suicide
- Living alone or being unmarried
- Alcohol and/or drug dependence
- Barriers to seeking emotional help and support
Any changes to your life can affect how you feel, and these can happen to anyone, says Harper. ‘We’ve experienced an unprecedented amount of change in our lives recently. Remember that there is always support available and you’re not alone.’
How to talk to someone who is feeling suicidal
Suicidal ideas are expressed by two thirds of people before they act. If someone you know talks about taking their life, take them seriously. If you’re worried that your loved one may be feeling suicidal, there’s a few ways you can help:
🔸 Start the conversation
‘Firstly, you should let them know that it’s ok to open-up and that they’re not alone,’ Harper says. ‘This can be tough at first and it’s entirely normal to not know what to say. Start with small but direct questions like “Tell me about…” or “How do you feel about…”, as these open questions may encourage them to speak up.’
🔸 Be direct
‘Direct questions about suicide, such as “are you having suicidal thoughts?” can help someone talk about how they’re feeling,’ says Harper. ‘While it may be an uncomfortable conversation, it can really help them open-up.’ And when they answer, listen carefully to what they have to say, and respond with more open questions – not advice or opinions.
🔸 Show support
‘Try to focus on how they’re feeling, rather than trying to solve the problem,’ says Harper. ‘This will show them that you’re listening, and you care. Choose a time and place where they feel comfortable to open-up. Give them the time they need to answer these questions – if someone is feeling suicidal, talking to someone who is supportive and listens to them is often an important first steps towards getting help.’
🔸 Be respectful
Acknowledge that they are experiencing pain, and be as understanding as possible about their situation. Avoid minimising or dismissing their feelings, or coming across as judgemental. Above all, let them know that you care, and you have time to listen to them. ‘There’s no perfect way to have this conversation – the most important thing is that you’re here for them,’ says Harper.
🔸 Offer help
Even something as simple as making them a cup of tea or going for a walk together can help. You could also offer to contact their GP or a mental health professional, call the NHS 111 24-hour helpline for advice and information about local services, or contact a confidential crisis prevention hotline – the details are below.
How to cope if you are feeling suicidal
You don’t have to face difficult feelings by yourself – help is available right now if you need it. ‘If you’re having suicidal thoughts, know that you’re not alone,’ says Harper. ‘Taking your own life is never the right solution to any challenge you may be facing. If you are feeling overwhelmed by negative thoughts or hopelessness, it’s important to seek help.’
⚠️ If you are in immediate danger or if you have seriously harmed yourself – call an ambulance on 999 or go straight to A&E.
✔️ Contact a helpline
Free helplines are there to help when you’re struggling to cope. You can call Samaritans on 116 123 any time of the day or night; text the Shout Crisis Text Line on 85258; or speak to a trained advisor via webchat, available through Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) from 5pm to midnight every day. There are more crisis services available at the end of this article.
✔️ Speak to your doctor
It’s important to make an appointment with your GP. ‘Your doctor will be able to refer you to talking therapies – psychological treatments which involve talking to a trained professional about your thoughts and feelings – and prescribe medication to help,’ says Harper. ‘It can be daunting to open up to your doctor, but they’re here to listen and help.’
✔️ Engage with family and friends
It can be a difficult conversation to have, but it’s so important to reach out to family and friends. ‘Let those closest around you know what’s going on, and how you’re feeling,’ says Harper. ‘Starting this conversation is an important step in managing suicidal thoughts. It can feel a huge relief to open-up about how you’re feeling.’ Speak to them about how they can support you when you feel unwell.
✔️ Try not to identify with your thoughts
Remember that any thoughts you have about suicide are just thoughts. You don’t have to act on them, no matter how overwhelming they are or how frequently they occur. You won’t always have these thoughts – your emotions have changed before, and they will change again. Writing down your thoughts in a journal may help you understand what you’re feeling.
✔️ Concentrate on the ‘now’
You only have to cope with the present moment. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. ‘Try not to focus too much on the future and take it one day at a time,’ says Harper. ‘Do something you enjoy and distract yourself if you can – if you focus on your thoughts it may make them stronger and harder to deal with. Instead, spend time with a friend, pet, or listen to music. Setting small goals to focus on can really help, too.’
✔️ Look for the positive
Make a list of the positive things in your life and what you like about yourself, says Harper. ‘While this may be difficult, try to add to the list every day. This could be a particular activity you’ve enjoyed, a positive thing someone close to you has said about you or a nice gesture you did.’ You could also create a scrapbook of things that provide comfort when you’re feeling distressed and help you feel better about yourself.
✔️ Take care of yourself
If you feel up to it, exercise may help. ‘Exercise releases ‘feel-good’ hormones and these can have a positive effect on how you feel,’ Harper says. ‘If you’re struggling to relax, make time for activities that will help you feel calm. Head outdoors for a walk outside in nature, have a warm bath or read your favourite book. Mindfulness, meditation and breathing techniques can all help, too.’