Thousands of people in the UK end their lives by suicide each year. Nearly 6,000 suicides occurred in the UK in 2017.
That figure means there is one death by suicide every two hours – and many more people are thought to attempt suicide. Statistics show that suicide rates across the United Kingdom as a whole have decreased over the past three years, with 5,965 suicides occurring in 2016 in the United Kingdom. Scotland, however, saw a small increase in the past year to 727.
Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34 years in the UK and it is considerably higher in men, with around three times as many men dying as a result of suicide compared to women. It is the leading cause of death for men under 50 in the UK. Those at highest risk are men aged between 40 and 44 years who have a rate of 24.1 deaths per 100,000 population.
One reason that men are more likely to complete suicide may be because they are less likely than women to ask for help or talk about depressive or suicidal feelings. Recent statistics show that only 27% of people who died by suicide between 2005 and 2015 had been in contact with mental health services in the year before they died.
The statistics highlight that talking about suicide is still highly stigmatised. Talking about suicide and understanding it better is necessary to help prevent further suicides in the UK.
Certain factors are known to be associated with increased risk of suicide, which may fall into one of three categories – individual, socio-cultural and situational. These include:
- drug and alcohol misuse
- history of trauma or abuse
- social isolation
- poor social conditions
- family breakdown.
People with a diagnosed mental health condition are shown to be at a higher risk of attempting and completing suicide, with more than 90% of suicides and suicide attempts having been found to be associated with a psychiatric disorder. Across the globe, the highest rates of suicide were associated with depressive disorders across the globe. Studies have found the experience of stressful life events to be associated with depressive symptoms and the onset of major depression, as well as suicide and suicidal thoughts. Our recent Stress Survey found that 32% of adults who felt stress at some point in their lives had experienced suicidal thoughts.
Previous suicide attempts and engagement in self-harming behaviours are also an indication of particular risk. Up to 16% of survivors try again within a year with 2% of repeat attempts being fatal.
“If we climb high enough, we will reach a height from which tragedy ceases to look tragic.”
Suicide is a final act of behaviour that is the result of a range of factors, difficulties and distress. For many people an attempt occurs after months of having thoughts and feelings about suicide.
Many factors might predict if someone is more at risk of feeling suicidal or of acting on these thoughts. The might include:
- feeling depressed, withdrawn and anxious
- loss of interest in hobbies, work, socialising or even in their appearance
- expressing feelings of hopelessness or purposelessness
- acting impulsively or in a reckless way and not caring what happens to them
- giving away possessions, sorting out their affairs or making a will
- talking about suicide, death or dying or wanting it all to end
If you notice these signs or feel that you someone you know is at risk of taking their own life, these signs can offer potential opportunities to intervene and save lives.
While self-harm is not directly related to suicide there is research to suggest that individuals who self-harm are more at risk of attempting or completing suicide.
Only 27% of people who died by suicide between 2005 and 2015 had been in contact with mental health services in the year before they died. If appropriate and timely help and emotional support is offered to people who are experiencing deep unhappiness and distress, this can reduce the risk of them choosing to end their own life.
While there is work needed to prevent suicide within our society, there are ways that professionals and individuals can help. Prevention of suicide is not the exclusive responsibility of any one sector of society. Schools can create cultures in which young people feel it is healthy to talk through emotional and other difficulties.
Prevention programmes in schools are increasing in effectiveness and showing positive results.19,20 General practitioners can restrict the number of tablets prescribed to those at risk of overdose. Accident and emergency staff can ensure anyone who has attempted suicide receives a specialist mental health assessment.
Each of us can play close attention to the overall mental health of our loved ones. An empathetic approach and being open to understanding suicide and suicidal ideation can help those at risk by letting them know it is okay for them to share.
Help and support
If you are feeling suicidal, please call 999 (112 Spain) or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team (CRT). CRTs are teams of mental health care professionals, such as psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses, who work with people experiencing severe psychological and emotional distress.
There is help and support available
Recovery from a suicide attempt
The attitudes we hold towards people who attempt to take their lives can influence the course of their condition. The isolation that suicidal people feel can be reinforced by a judgmental approach in which their behaviour is viewed as manipulative or selfish. By stepping beyond our personal assumptions, and showing care and respect for the people behind the behaviours, we can help them share their feelings and help prevent suicides. U Can Cope film.
In 2012, a number of charities and organisations including the Mental Health Foundation collaborated in the production of the ‘U Can Cope’ film which was made to raise awareness and provide help and support on World Suicide Prevention Day. The film aims to spread the message that it is possible to overcome suicidal thoughts and feelings and that there are many resources available to help those who are struggling to cope.