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Suicide prevention – how to help yourself and others

08 September 2021

Posted on: 08 September 2021

Tragically, in 2019 there were more than 6,500 suicides in the UK. Around three-quarters of these were among men, with males aged 45-49 most at risk; but suicide can affect anyone, at any age.   

Suicide is extremely complex and most of the time there is no single event or factor that leads someone to take their own life. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, remember that suicide is preventable - many people come through a suicidal crisis and recover. The first step is asking for help.

What to do if you have suicidal thoughts

Suicidal feelings can mean having abstract thoughts about ending your life or feeling that people would be better off without you. Or it can mean thinking about methods of suicide or making clear plans to take your own life.

Different people have different experiences of suicidal feelings. You might feel unable to cope with the difficult feelings you are experiencing. You may feel less like you want to die and more like you cannot go on living the life you have. These feelings can be scary and confusing, even overwhelming.

You are not alone

Many people think about suicide at some point in their lifetime. But with treatment and support, including self-care, the vast majority of people who have felt suicidal go on to live fulfilling lives.

You might be feeling so upset, angry and in pain that you believe these feelings will never end. But it's important to remember that they cannot and will not last. Like all feelings, these ones will pass.

The earlier you let someone know how you're feeling, the quicker you'll be able to get support to overcome these feelings. It's important to remember that you deserve support, you are not alone and there is support out there.

Where to go for help if you need it

When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org, or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

We also have an article on How to ask for help with mental wellbeing which covers people and places you can go to for free and confidential support. Your GP is usually a good place to start, but the right solution depends on your situation and how you are feeling.

Three top tips for talking about difficult feelings:

  1. Be honest and open.
  2. Try to explain how you've been feeling over the past few months or weeks, and anything that has changed.
  3. Use words and descriptions that feel natural to you – you don't have to say specific things to get help.

If you’re worried about someone else

The Samaritans have a four-step guide here on what to do if someone is in immediate danger of harming themselves.

If it’s not an emergency, but you still have concerns about someone’s state of mind, the best thing to do is ask them how they’re feeling, and if there’s anything worrying them. If they seem receptive, you can mention places they can go to get help, and pass on contact information.

You can’t force someone to seek help — but you can make sure they know that you’re there for them, and will support them if they do.

It’s ok to feel awkward

Many people worry that reaching out will be intrusive or make things worse. You’ll soon be able to tell if the person you’re speaking to isn’t comfortable or doesn’t want to have that kind of conversation. If they don’t want to open up, you’ll still have let them know you’re there for them.

If you’re worried someone is suicidal, it’s okay to ask them directly. Research shows that this helps - because it gives them permission to tell you how they feel, and shows that they are not a burden.

Evidence shows asking someone if they're suicidal can protect them. They feel listened to, and hopefully less trapped. Their feelings are validated, and they know that somebody cares about them. Reaching out can save a life.

Rory O'Connor, Professor of Health Psychology at Glasgow University

Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy. World Suicide Prevention Day was set up to raise awareness of how we can create a world where fewer people die by suicide. Individually, we can help by taking care of our own mental wellbeing, and seeking support if we need it, as well as being there for others who are struggling.

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