Published on: October 9, 2020
by Lucy Davis
Young People’s Practitioner, Compass REACH
My colleague Paul Cullen from Compass BUZZ wrote an insightful article on suicide as a means of supporting World Suicide Prevention Day: https://www.compass-uk.org/news/uncategorised/world-suicide-prevention-day-10-september-2020/. I want to follow on from his article in recognition that this year’s theme for World Mental Health Day on the 10th October 2020 is “Mental Health for All” and as suicide can affect any one of us at any time, I feel it is important to talk about suicide, especially given the pressures and challenges all of us are facing due to COVID-19 Pandemic.
Suicide in the UK is on an all-time high and is on the rise. Sadly, in 2019 there were 5691 deaths recorded as suicide in England and Wales. You can find more about Suicide statistics on the Samaritans website: https://www.samaritans.org/about-samaritans/research-policy/suicide-facts-and-figures/
What is suicide?
Suicide means ending your own life intentionally. Sometimes people can feel it is a way to escape the pain or suffering they may be feeling and may have suicidal thoughts. Some people may never act on these thoughts, but some people do.
Suicidal thoughts do not discriminate between class, age, profession, sex, religion. Anyone can experience suicidal thoughts.
Feeling suicidal can be very scary. It can also be very hard to open up and talk about how you are feeling. You may be worried you will be judged, ridiculed or that no-one will understand. However, sharing your worries or thoughts with someone you trust can help you see things from a different perspective.
It may feel like suicide is the only option, but it’s not. Other ways forward do exist although at the time it may not feel like it. The emotional pain you are feeling can be very intense and can distort your thinking into believing that suicide is the only option and there are no other solutions. It’s important to remember this pain is temporary and will pass.
If you are feeling like you want to end your life, know that you are not alone and there is help and support available to you.
Risk factors for Suicide
The following is taken and adapted from https://save.org/about-suicide/warning-signs-risk-factors-protective-factors/
Risk factors don’t cause suicide however they are characteristics that can trigger a person to contemplate, attempt or even die from suicide. Risk factors include:
- Mental health problems
- Alcohol and other substance misuse
- Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
- History of trauma or abuse
- Major physical or chronic illnesses
- Previous suicide attempt/s
- Family history of suicide
- Recent job or financial loss
- Recent loss of a relationship or bereavement
- Easy access to lethal means
- Local clusters of suicide
- Lack of social support and sense of isolation
- Stigma associated with asking for help
- Lack of health care, especially mental health, and substance abuse support
- Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma
- Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and Internet)
- Certain Social media challenges
- Increase in risk taking and self-harming behaviours
Spotting the signs
The following is taken and adapted from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/recognizing-suicidal-behavior#1
Spotting the signs that someone is suicidal can be tricky, but the following are some of the possible warning signs that a person may be at risk for suicide:
- Excessive sadness or low mood: Long-lasting sadness and mood swings can be symptoms of depression, a major risk factor for suicide. People may feel tearful, tired, or lacking in energy, they may feel hopeless, helpless or worthless and talk about feeling trapped by life circumstances they can’t see a way out of or feeling unable to escape their thoughts. You could also observe a change in routine, such as sleeping or eating more or less than normal.
- Threatening suicide: Not everyone who is considering suicide will say so, and not everyone who threatens suicide will follow through with it. However, every threat of suicide should be taken seriously.
- Withdrawal: Choosing to be alone and avoiding friends or social activities also are possible symptoms of depression. This includes the loss of interest or pleasure in activities the person previously enjoyed.
- Sudden calmness: Suddenly becoming calm after a period of depression or low mood can be a sign that the person has decided to end their life.
- Seeking out dangerous and lethal means: Stockpiling, purchasing items such as drugs, medicines, knives, rope, firearms or other items that they would not usually have or need.
- Changes in personality and/or appearance: A person who is considering suicide might exhibit a change in attitude or behaviour, such as speaking or moving with unusual speed or slowness. In addition, the person might suddenly become less concerned about his or her personal appearance.
- Dangerous or self-harmful behaviour: Potentially dangerous behaviour, such as reckless driving, engaging in unsafe sex, and increased use of drugs and/or alcohol might indicate that the person no longer values his or her life.
- Recent trauma or life crisis: A major life crisis might trigger a suicide attempt. Crises include the death of a loved one or pet, divorce or break-up of a relationship, diagnosis of a major illness, loss of a job, or serious financial problems.
- Making preparations: People who have decided to end their life may make preparations for this to happen. This might include visiting loved ones, giving away their personal possessions, making or updating a will, discussing their funeral and what they would like and cleaning their room or home. Some people will write a note before ending their life which often referred to as a ‘suicide note’.
The advice from Mental Health Foundation ‘W.A.I.T’ is one great way to remember how you can support someone who may be suicidal. It stands for:
Watch out for signs of distress and uncharacteristic behaviour
Ask “are you having suicidal thoughts?”
It will pass – reassure them that the pain they are feeling is temporary and it will pass.
Talk to others – encourage them to talk about it and to seek help from a GP or health professional
Samaritans offer some great advice on how to support someone you’re worried about: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/if-youre-worried-about-someone-else/how-support-someone-youre-worried-about/what-do-if-you-think-someone-struggling/
Tips to help you cope right now
It could be helpful for you to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. There are different people who can help. Your friends and family may want to help but might not know how to straight away. If this happens, you should tell them what you want from them.
You may want to talk about how you’re feeling, or you may want them to help you get professional help. You could speak to friends, family or your GP.
Make home a safe space
It is really important to remove all items that can be used to harm yourself or may tempt you to harm yourself. Remove items that you can use such as razor blades, knives, pills, and firearms. If you are thinking of taking an overdose, give your medicines to someone who can return them to you one day at a time as you need them or until you are back in control of your feelings. If removing these items is not possible, go to a place you feel safe.
Go to a safe place
Go to a place where you feel safe. If you can’t think or don’t know where your safe place is, you could try:
- Your bedroom
- Friend’s house
- Relative’s house
Again, stay away from things you could use to harm yourself.
Try not to think too far ahead into the future
Try not to focus on the future and instead focus on to getting through the next 5 minutes, 20 minutes, or hour. Try activities that will get you through such as puzzles, mindfulness or chatting with a friend or family member.
Stay away from drugs and alcohol
When you feel suicidal, you may want to take the pain away and think drugs or alcohol may do this. It is not a good idea to resort to drugs or alcohol to manage our feelings as they can make it a lot worse. Drugs affect the way we think and feel. You may be more likely to take your own life if you take illegal drugs. Not all drugs are the same and different drugs have different effects. It is best to avoid drugs all together.
Similarly, alcohol affects our judgement, emotions, and behaviour. If you drink when feeling suicidal there is a high chance it will make the feelings worse. Drinking alcohol might make you more likely to act on suicidal thoughts so it is best to avoid alcohol.
Make a safety plan
A safety plan (sometimes called a crisis plan) is a valuable tool in helping to manage suicidal thoughts or wanting to act of these thoughts. It is never too late to start a safety plan but ideally it should be made to help you before you are in crisis. You may find it useful to have help to put the safety plan together from a friend or trusted adult.
A safety plan is to help you think about what support you need when you feel like ending your life. It might help to write down the names and numbers of people who would be able to support you, so you have them to hand. You could also make a list of things that you could do to help yourself during this time, things to avoid and remind yourself how you coped in the past. It may be helpful to include the good things in your life or what you are looking forward to in the future.
There is no right or wrong way for how a safety plan should look. However, Get self Help have one that you can use which can be found here: https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/SafetyPlan.pdf
Some people find having a self-help box to be helpful. A box that they can grab, and it is already full of the items you need to get through the pain you are feeling. Some people call it a ‘Crisis box’, ‘happy box’ or ‘hope box’. This is your box so name it whatever you like and store it somewhere where it will be easy to grab.
The idea of a crisis box is that it is filled with items that make you feel better. You can use it when you feel anxious, stressed, or suicidal.
The self-help box is personal to you. You can fill it with anything, such as:
- A copy of your safety plan
- Your favourite CD or DVD – it may be good to watch your favourite film or listen to your favourite music
- Reminders of positive things you have learnt or affirmations such as “I can cope”
- Some people have their loved ones write them a letter which they can read and keep in the box
- Something to distract you like a colouring book or a reading book
- Photographs of people you love and who make you happy
- Your favourite sweets, chocolates, or food
- A cosy blanket
These are just examples and you may have other things that bring you comfort. It is best to put things into your box that make you happy and relaxed.
Do activities that make you feel good – Distract yourself
Spend time with people you love. Go out to the cinema, coffee shop, the beach – wherever. Being around people in different surroundings can make you feel better. Exercise is a great activity to do as it increases dopamine and serotonin “the happy hormones” which make us feel more joyful. It will also distract your mind away from your thoughts.
Self-care activities that help you relax are important. You could do things such as:
- Take part in yoga
- Listen to guided meditation
- Take a long bubble bath
- Go for a nice stroll and practice mindfulness focusing on the sights and sounds you hear
- Controlled breathing such as ‘box breathing’ or ‘colour breathing’
- Watch your favourite film
Distract yourself with other activities like singing, dancing, spending time with your pets and loved ones or other activities which you know distract you.
Colour breathing is a mindfulness exercise – try it out. Sit somewhere comfortable. Imagine the negative feelings you have as a colour; we shall say green. Now imagine happy feelings and positiveness is yellow. Imagine you are inhaling the colour yellow for 4 seconds, so you are inhaling happiness and positivity. Hold for 4 seconds and then exhale the colour green. Exhaling negativity and suicidal thoughts. The hold for 4. Repeat this process for as long as you need.
Take hope in the fact the emotional pain you are feeling is temporary. You are not alone. There are people who will listen and support you.
What should I do if someone I know is talking about suicide?
If someone you know is threatening suicide, please take it seriously:
- Do not leave the person alone. If possible, ask for help from friends or other family members
- Ask them to give you any items they have that can be used to hurt themselves or others i.e. sharp objects and medications
- Try to keep the person as calm as possible. You could try engaging in conversation or distract the person
- Call 999 and ask for an ambulance or take the person directly to A&E
Is your life in danger?
If you have seriously harmed yourself, for example, by taking a drug overdose – call 999 for an ambulance or go straight to A& or ask someone else to call 999 or take you to A&E.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, support is available. Such as:
Samaritans – for everyone
Call or text 116 123 – (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
Papyrus HOPELINEUK – for people under 35
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 9am to 10pm, weekends and bank holidays 2pm to 10pm
Text 07860 039967
Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111
Call a GP – ask for an emergency appointment
Call 111 out of hours – they will help you find the support and help you need
Stay Alive app – The Stay Alive app is a pocket suicide prevention resource for the UK, packed full of useful information to help you stay safe. You can use it if you are having thoughts of suicide or if you are concerned about someone else who may be considering suicide.
If you would like to gain training which will provide a better understanding of the signs to look out for and the skills required to approach someone who is struggling, Zero Suicide Alliance have a free eLearning course. It can be found on this link: https://www.zerosuicidealliance.com/training
It may feel like the world is against you and you have nowhere left to turn, but speaking about how you are feeling can help you see things differently. Accessing support does not make you weak but incredibly strong and brave. Things will change and life may not be the same in one week, one month or even one year from now as it is today. Things will get better. Remember “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary situation”.