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Suicide

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Suicide is the act of ending your life intentionally.
Brought to you by NHS Choices

Overview

Introduction

The suicide rate in the UK has been falling since 1991, and in 2007 the rate was the lowest on record. However, there are still more than 5,000 suicides in the UK each year.

‘Self-harm’ is the deliberate act of harming yourself, either by overdosing on tablets or self-cutting. Sometimes, the intention of such acts is to die and sometimes there are other motives, such as to escape from painful feelings or to release tension. Go to the NHS Choices A-Z topic on 'self-injury' for more information.

Self-harm is much more common than suicide and there are at least 140,000 hospital cases each year in England and Wales.

Risk factors for suicide

There are many factors that can make a person more likely to end their life by suicide; for example, having a mental illness such as depression, or misusing drugs and alcohol.

The death rate from suicide is particularly high in men under the age of 35. See the 'causes' section for more information on who is at risk.

Getting help

If you have had thoughts of suicide recently, or if you are feeling suicidal now, you should contact someone immediately for help:

  • See your GP or the out-of-hours GP service. If you have already taken an overdose or cut yourself badly, dial 999.
  • There are telephone helplines with specially trained volunteers who will listen to you, understand what you are going through, and help you through the immediate crisis.
  • Or you could contact a friend, family member or someone you trust.

The Samaritans operate a service that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for people who want to talk in confidence to someone about their distress, include self-destructive thoughts.

Causes

Who is at risk of suicide?

The reasons why someone may feel suicidal are often very complex and may be linked to mental health conditions such as depression. But there are things that make it more likely for you to have suicidal thoughts:

  • Something has happened in your life that has upset you. Perhaps you are being bullied or you have not got the exam results you wanted. Perhaps you have split up with a partner or someone close to you has died.
  • Your life has changed and you are finding it hard to cope with. Perhaps you have recently retired or your family has just left home. Perhaps you are having financial difficulties.
  • You have been drinking heavily or using illegal drugs.
  • Someone close to you has taken their own life.
  • You are suffering from depression or another mental illness.


Often, there is no single, clear reason why you are thinking about suicide. A run of small problems or bad luck, or simply a gradual build-up of hurt and pressure over time, can wear you down until you begin to have suicidal thoughts.

Most people who have thoughts of suicide do not really want to die, but suicide may seem the only way out from their problems or an end to the unhappiness they are feeling. In this state of mind it is often difficult to think clearly.

Who is at risk of suicide?

Some groups of people are known to be at particular risk of suicide as they have unique difficulties to face.

Older people

Until fairly recently, the suicide rate among the elderly was much higher than in other age groups, but now suicide rates in younger people are higher. Older people are particularly vulnerable because they are more likely to have to deal with the death of loved ones, to be lonely, and to have physical ill health.

Also, depression in older people may be overlooked in favour of treating the physical conditions that come with old age.

Other at-risk groups

Other groups at risk include:

  • People with serious mental health problems, such as severe depression, bipolar disorder (manic depression) or schizophrenia, particularly when they have recently been discharged from a psychiatric unit.
  • People with disabling or painful physical illnesses.
  • People who may feel isolated within society. Gay men and lesbians, students, the homeless, immigrants, old people and those in prison are at particular risk.
  • People who use illegal drugs or abuse alcohol. Alcohol and drugs affect reasoning, can act as a depressant and can cause someone to lose their inhibitions - making them more likely to attempt suicide.
  • People who have suffered sexual or physical abuse.
  • People who have attempted suicide or self-harmed before.


For information on statistics and suicide trends among these groups, see 'facts', below.

Men and suicide

Men account for three quarters of all suicides in the UK. Generally, men are more reluctant than women to talk about their feelings and to see their GP with psychological problems.

Facts

Suicide statistics

The suicide rate in the UK is continuing to fall and the 2007 figures show it to be the lowest rate on record. However, the number of suicides is still a concern: in 2006, there were 5,554 suicides in adults aged 15 and over in the UK.

It is estimated that in England and Wales, at least 140,000 people present to hospital each year having attempted suicide.

Suicide and men

  • Three quarters of suicides in the UK are by men.
  • Men aged 25-34 are at highest risk of suicide, followed by men aged 35-44.
  • Suicide is the second most common cause of death in men aged 15-44, behind accidental death.


Suicide and young people

  • Suicide is the second most common cause of death in people aged 15-24, behind accidental death.
  • It is estimated that 7-14% of adolescents will self-harm at some point in their life.


Suicide and the elderly

  • In 2006, 217 people aged 80 or over took their own lives. This represents 5.2% of the total deaths from suicide.


Suicide and mental illness

  • Research has shown that almost all people who end their life by suicide have a mental illness, most commonly depression.
  • About 4% of people with schizophrenia will die by suicide, often soon after their illness starts. The lifetime risk of suicide in bipolar disorder is even higher, at 10-15%.

Prevention

Preventing suicide

Depression is a common reason why someone may have thoughts of suicide, and most suicides are linked to depression in some way.

If you are feeling depressed or suicidal, it is important that you visit your GP. They can offer you a range of treatments, such as antidepressants or 'talking therapies' like counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Self-help advice

There are things you can do yourself that can help you fight thoughts of suicide as well as more general feelings of depression. They are intended to give you ways of coping with feelings of loneliness, unhappiness or sadness:

  • Try to remain connected with the world around you and avoid feelings of isolation. Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling, and keep up with your friendships and interests, even though you might not feel like it at times.
  • Try to find things that will take your mind off negative thoughts. This might be making sure you are with people you like, taking a hot bath, doing some deep-breathing exercises, or treating yourself to some of your favourite food.
  • Try focusing on the good things you have done each day rather than the bad. It may help to imagine yourself in a happy situation - seeing your favourite band, meeting your favourite movie star, eating your favourite meal, or sunning yourself on a beach.
  • Exercise can stimulate your mind and body and help fight off depression. Daylight and sunshine can help put you in a brighter mood so try to spend time outdoors. Make an effort not to go to bed until your normal bedtime and find things to do that give you some structure to your day, like going for a walk each evening.
  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs. They may give you a lift at first, but they can make you feel even worse in the long run as large amounts of alcohol act as a depressant. Also, if you drink a lot of alcohol or have taken certain illegal drugs, you may make decisions you would not normally make.
  • Join a self-help group. It can be a great relief to meet other people who are going through the same thing you are, and can show you how other people have coped. Helping to support others can make you feel better about yourself too.

National suicide rates

The National Suicide Prevention Strategy was launched in 2002 with the aim of reducing the number of suicides in England by at least a fifth by 2010. The number of suicides each year is now falling, including suicides among young men and the elderly.

Getting help

If you have had suicidal thoughts recently, or if you are feeling suicidal now, you should contact someone for help. There are telephone helplines with specially trained volunteers who will listen to you, understand what you are going through, and help you through the immediate crisis.

Helplines

The Samaritans operate a service that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call 08457 90 90 90. If you prefer to write down how you are feeling, or if you are worried you might be overheard talking on the phone, then you can email them at jo@samaritans.org

Childline run a free helpline for children and young people in the UK. The call is free and the number will not show up on your phone bill. Call 0800 11 11.

Talking to someone you trust

If you do not want to speak to someone via a helpline, you could also contact:

  • a member of your family, a friend or someone you trust like a teacher,
  • your GP, a mental health professional or other health care professional, or
  • a minister, religious leader or someone in your community.


Talking to someone can help you see beyond feelings of loneliness or despair and help you to realise that there are other options open to you apart from ending your life.

Seeing your GP

Whoever you talk to now, you should also visit your GP. They will be able to advise you on treatment options if they think you are suffering from depression.

Helping someone else

If you are worried that someone you know might be depressed or having thoughts of suicide, you should look out for signs of change in their personality and behaviour. The signs to look for include:

  • losing interest in things they used to enjoy,
  • unhappiness,
  • lack of energy,
  • spending a lot of time on their own, or
  • a reluctance to spend time with other people.


If you see possible warning signs that someone you know may be thinking about suicide, it is a good idea to ask them 'Do you ever feel so bad that you think of suicide?' Do not worry that you might be planting the idea in someone's head. If they have been thinking of suicide, they will probably be relieved to talk about it and grateful that you are willing to be so open and understanding.

If someone confides in you, then you should listen carefully to everything they say and try not to judge them. Sometimes just being there and showing that you care enough to listen can help. You should reassure them that others feel like this too and that they are not alone in trying to cope with suicidal thoughts - there are people who can help them.

If they will not talk to you, perhaps they would talk to a friend or a relative, or perhaps they would prefer to write down how they feel.

You should always try to persuade someone you think might be suicidal or depressed to visit their GP.

It is important to look after your own health too. Knowing that someone you care about is feeling suicidal can be physically and emotionally draining. If you feel that this is too much to deal with by yourself, then you should talk about it in confidence to someone you trust.

Helping your child

  • Notice when they seem upset, withdrawn or irritable
  • Encourage them to talk about their worries, listen, and help them to find their own solutions
  • Buy blister packs of medicine in small amounts – this helps prevent impulsive suicides
  • Keep all medicines locked away, including painkillers such as paracetamol
  • Get professional help if family problems keep upsetting your child

Source: RCPsych

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