A recent episode of the BBC Ambulance documentary (aired 28 October 2020) showed crews responding to a 36-year old male who, tragically, took his own life. Later in the same episode, a call came in from a suicidal woman. Thankfully, crews were able to reach her in time.
The increasing pressures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and other issues, have taken many of us to the depths of despair, with some feeling they have no choice left but to take their own life. Already this year (October 2020), the London Ambulance Service have attended 37 suicide calls, up from 22 in the whole of 2019 and 17 just five years ago.
Suicide – The Myths
Myth: People who talk about suicide won’t actually do it
Fact: Many people who take their own lives had told someone that they felt their life was not living or that they had no future. Some had explicitly said they wanted to die. Always take suicide talk seriously. Helping someone who is talking about suicide get the support they need could save their life.
Myth: If someone is serious about ending their life, there’s nothing you can do to stop them
Fact: Feeling actively suicidal is often temporary, even if someone has been struggling with their difficulties for a long time. That’s why getting the right kind of help in a crisis is so important. It can save their life.
Myth: You have to be mentally ill to think about suicide
Fact: 1 in 5 people have thought about suicide at some point in their life, and not all those who take their own life have mental health problems when they die. The reasons why someone might want to end their life are often complex. However, life issues such as relationships problems, financial difficulties, debilitating illness, trauma and other crisis events are all associated with suicide risk.
Myth: People who feel suicidal want to die
Fact: Most people who feel suicidal don’t want to die; they just don’t want the life they have to continue. They want the pain to stop and can see no other way to stop it. That’s a big difference, and that’s why talking through other options, in the right way, at the right time, is so important.
Myth: Those who say they want to die are just attention-seeking
Fact: People who are talking about ending their life should always be taken seriously. It may be that they are seeking attention in the sense that they are crying out for help. Helping them get the support they need might safe their life.
Myth: Talking about suicide will prompt someone to try it
Fact: Talking about suicide is not going to give someone the idea to try it. Quite the opposite, actually. Talking about suicide–even asking someone directly if they are contemplating ending their life–can give them permission to talk about it, and relieve some of the pressure they feel. Once they start talking, they have more opportunity to realise that they have other options, rather than ending their life. Talking about suicide saves lives.
Myth: Most suicides happen suddenly without warning
Fact: Most people who end their own life showed some warning signs beforehand. That’s why it’s so important that we are aware of the warning signs associated with suicide, and take action when we spot them. Many people who are suicidal may only show warning signs to those closest to them, and the warning signs can go unrecognised. That’s why so many suicides seem to come ‘out of the blue’, without warning.
Suicide – The Warning Signs
Many people who are contemplating suicide give some indication of what they are considering, although the clues can be subtle. Initially, might make comments such as, “I wish I wasn’t here” or “nothing matters.” Over time, their words might become more explicit, talking about wanting to die or being a burden to others.
Other warning signs include:
- Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide
- Having no purpose in life or reason for living
- Increased drug or alcohol use
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Aggressive behaviour
- Withdrawal from friends, family and community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Impulsive, reckless or risky behaviour
- Saving or buying pills or other means to kill themselves
- Tying up loose ends, like organising papers or paying off debts
- Giving away possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
Suicide – How You Can Help
Most people feel a sense of panic when they realise that someone close to them might be contemplating suicide. You might have been caught off-guard and so feel unprepared and anxious, not knowing what to do and fearing making things worse.
Here are some practice things you can do to help a person who might be feeling suicidal:
- Express your concern about the things you have observed in their behaviour.
- Ask them if they are having thoughts of suicide.
- Listen attentively to what they say, without judgement or criticism.
- Reflect what they say, so they know you have heard them.
- Avoid arguing, threatening them or raising your voice.
- Don’t get into a debate about whether suicide is right or wrong.
- Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions such as, “do you have a plan for how you might kill yourself?”
- Be calm and patient.
In all probability, you will be feeling stressed and anxious. Try to stay calm, speak normally and avoid fidgeting or pacing around. The more relaxed you are, the calmer they are likely to remain. If there are multiple people around, have one person speak at a time.
If they are struggling with suicidal thoughts, let them know they can talk with you about what they are experiencing. Avoid arguing, problem-solving or pointing out reasons why their life isn’t that bad. Rather listen compassionately, reflecting their feelings and summarising their thoughts. This active listening approach helps them feel heard, validated and understood.
Let them know that help and support are available. Services such as the Samaritans (116 123) are available 24-hours a day, and mental health professionals have trained to help people understand their feelings and build resilience. The NHS, voluntary organisations and private practice services such as ours can offer help and support. If they are willing, offer to help them find an appropriate service.
Remember that suicidal ideation (thoughts and feelings) is not uncommon. As many as 1 in 5 of us experience suicidal thoughts in our lifetime. With the right help and support, one can overcome suicidal ideation.
Suicide is not the answer. There is hope.
Getting Further Help
If you are in crisis, immediate help is available from a number of sources, check out our crisis resources page for further information. If you would like to talk with someone about your suicidal thoughts, or if you would like help to support someone else, please do call us on 0151 329 3637 or complete our online referral form.
Fuller, K. (2020). 5 Common Myths About Suicide Debunked. National Alliance in Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2020/5-Common-Myths-About-Suicide-Debunked 11 November 2020.
National Alliance in Mental Illness (2019) Risk of Suicide. National Alliance in Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Common-with-Mental-Illness/Risk-of-Suicide. 11 November 2020.
Rudd, M. D., Berman, A. L., Joiner, T. E., Jr., Nock, M. K., Silverman, M. M., Mandrusiak, M., et al. (2006). Warning signs for suicide: Theory, research, and clinical applications. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 36(3), 255-262.
Horowitz, L., Tipton, M. V., & Pao, M. (2020). Primary and Secondary Prevention of Youth Suicide. Pediatrics