WARNING: this article talks about suicide and how to prevent it. The opening paragraph also contains a minor Barbie movie spoiler but very minor. It – the article, not the Barbie movie – was also written by someone who has experience of attempts to end their life as well as experience of pervasive suicide ideation and has lived through it.
Thoughts about death are common but still provoke anxiety. A recent example of the tension and unease that can be created when we talk about death came earlier this summer with the stark reaction of characters in the Barbie movie when Margot Robbie innocently asked “You guys ever think about dying?”.
As that movie reminds us, a part of being human is learning how to feel and sit with uncomfortable feelings. Talking about suicide or thoughts of self-harm can be very uncomfortable. But understanding the facts is a good step towards being able to discuss and prevent this this tragedy.
As Suicide Prevention Day is approaching (10 September), here are some important facts and resources to help you feel more comfortable talking about suicide.
1) Talking about suicide does not encourage suicide
Conversations about suicidal thoughts do not encourage suicide, research shows. Encouraging the easing of tension that surrounds the topic can in fact prevent suicide. Challenging the stigma that surrounds discussion of suicide can address the tension many of us naturally feel about it, since it is a literal life and death conversation.
Many of us feel understandably nervous talking about death or thoughts of death. But being able to hold space for those thoughts, feelings and conversations can help us feel less alone and particularly for those who might be in situations where there seems to be no other solution; they can be life-saving.
The charity Papyrus has a video on their website that demonstrates the importance of reaching out and talking to someone who you are concerned about.
2) Suicidal thoughts are very frightening
Suicidal thoughts can be very frightening to experience, however if you are experiencing suicidal ideation it’s important to know that nothing is inevitable and help is available.
Around 1 in 3 people who think about taking their life will follow these thoughts with actions. Expressing suicidal thoughts can be a heartfelt plea for help and if someone you know starts to talk about hurting themselves it’s important that you take them seriously.
If someone you know starts to talk about ending their life you can talk to them openly about it, help them to find professional support and ultimately this could help to stop the thoughts from progressing into action.
The Samaritans has a range of resources on their website to help you if you are having thoughts about hurting yourself, or to support your loved ones who might be struggling, and to help encourage conversations.
3) In the UK, the term “committed suicide” is incorrect
In the UK, it is not an illegal act to take one’s life. The term “committed suicide” refers to when it used to be an illegal act. The law changed in 1961 to decriminalise suicide.
However, in many countries suicide is still illegal. It is also illegal in many countries, including the UK, to encourage or to help someone take their life.
By using the term ‘committed suicide’ the implication is that this is an immoral act, such as committing a crime or adultery. It isn’t. You wouldn’t say ‘committed cancer’ or ‘committed heart disease’.
When referring to someone who dies by suicide, currently recommended phrases are: taking one’s life, ending one’s life., killing oneself or, as we have just used, “dying by suicide”.
Reducing the stigma associated with suicide is important so that more people will be able to talk openly about their feelings. The Campaign Against Living Miserably are working to reduce stigmas around suicide and other mental health issues, particularly for men. You can find out more here.
4) Talking about losing someone to suicide is difficult, but powerful
Bereavement by suicide can feel unlike any other type of loss. Feelings of grief, regret and shame often can play a part. It is vital that support is given to those experiencing loss due to suicide. For some, talking about their loss can help not only themselves, but others. Research also suggests verbal communication encourages closeness which can help mental wellbeing.
Some take this to the next level and speak publicly. Those with the correct support, training and abilities can present powerful stories that can help others. Whether that is on a public platform or on a more personal basis, learning how to be comfortable sharing these stories while holding healthy boundaries and not retraumatising oneself from sharing the story can help others. For example you can listen to MQ Ambassador Harry Corin share his story here.
If you have lost someone to suicide, support is available from the charity MInd or you can ask your GP to help you find a local support service.
5) Suicidal thoughts are common and help is available
If you have suicidal thoughts you’re not alone. Worldwide around 14% of adolescents have experienced suicidal ideation, with teens in Africa being at highest risk. When times are tough, these thoughts might understandably become more frequent.
Experts are now worried that the current cost-of-living crisis will have a significant effect on the nation’s mental health, which can put more people at risk of suicidal ideation.
It’s important to remember you’re not alone, neither in the experience – no matter how unique your situation – nor in needing help and help is available.
6) Suicide in the UK is a serious problem
In the UK, suicide rates rose between the years 2000 and 2021, with it being a leading cause of death for men. The highest increase of suicide rate is amongst women under the age of 24. From 2001 to 2018, suicide was the leading cause of death for adults aged 20 to 34 years old in the UK. And as researchers in the field have highlighted, further studies need to be done to prevent death by suicide.
Despite this, not enough is invested in research to prevent future suicides. The UK spends 25 times more per person on cancer research than on mental health research. Yet statistics show, one in 100 deaths is by suicide worldwide and in England and Wales in 2021 alone 5,583 deaths due to suicide were recorded. In addition, people with severe mental illness die 10 years earlier than others.
MQ Mental Health Research are supporting research into suicide prevention and early mortality rates related to menta illness in the Gone Too Soon programme. This is a series of projects and research investments aiming to address early mortality amongst people with mental illness, whether due to suicide or related physical health conditions.
You can read more about it here and watch a webinar here.
7) There is no single reason someone might take their own life
There are many reasons why someone might experience thoughts of suicide or be driven to taking their own life. It is too simplistic to say that the only people who are at risk are depressed or in pain.
People are complex and there are many intertwining factors that can influence behaviour and mental health. Loneliness, bullying, isolation, inequality, feelings of ‘being a burden’, feeling trapped, lack of a support network and other health conditions including chronic pain are all risk factors.
These risk factors are identified and addressed in the landmark Gone Too Soon Roadmap, published earlier this year which called for action on a global scale.
No matter how alone you might feel, help and support is available. You and your thoughts and feelings matter. If you are having suicidal thoughts or are struggling with your mental health in general and need help, you can get it right now. Please reach out to resources on this page.
To help fund further research into suicide prevention, please support MQ Mental Health Research today.